TA B L E O F NEWS
Ethics The MESSY TRUTH
The Unspoken Heroes Behind the Reopening of Universities
WHEN FACT BECOMES FICTION
YOUR BRAIN AND THE DOUBLE-TAP
Preservation and Education in the Everglades National Park
Our martian story 18 Vision of Mars in History, Culture, and the Future
What It Will Take to Send Us to Mars
An Overview of the Pandemic’s Socioeconomic Disparities
UNITED STATES 23 VACCINATION EFFORTS
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The Neighborhood in the Sea
How Science Backs Journaling
Postpartum Care in the US
ANTIBODIES OR THE 32 ANTICHRIST?
Religion’s Role in the COVID-19 Pandemic
public health v . 34 mosquito
How Genetic Modification Could be the Tiebreaker
Here comes 46 36
Stiltsville’s magic 26
Cover art by Varsha Udayakumar
Dear diary... 28
mommy and me 30
SEVEN MONTHS AND 20 BEYOND
The Psychological Effects of Social Media
COVID-19: ONE YEAR LATER
Alligator Etiquette 16
Biden’s Projected Impact on Science and Medicine
C O N T E N TS Research
CANES FOR A VACCINE
UM Neonatologist Tackles Neonatal Brain Injury
UM’s Role in Vaccine Development
FOR THE Female
Marissa Maddalon and Women’s Health
RESEARCH Video series
Season 2 umscientifica.com/ groundwork
WORKING IN THE NANO, 49 THINKING IN THE MACRO Profile on Anuj Shah, former Editor-in-Chief
The hunt for intuition
Flaviviruses: The Next Pandemic
The Science Behind Trusting Your Gut
Urbanization, Globalization, and Arboviral Replication
Writer Designer Photographer Copy Editor Videographer and Editor Business Associate Marketing/ PR Associate Distribution Associate Associate Web Developer/ Designer
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to apply. 3
letter from the editor
Anam Ahmed Microbiology & Immunology, Public Health, Class of 2023 Editor-in-Chief, UMiami Scientifica
This issue examines the interplay between science and society: how the two support or oppose each other in the name of progress. The pandemic continues to reveal distrust in science and professionals of the field and simultaneously exposes the importance placed on scientific findings and recommendations, or lack thereof. While several communities have historical, well-founded apprehension from systemic marginalization and inhumane treatment, others face uncertainty that comes from misinformation and disinformation. Each piece in the issue incorporates Science vs. Society, emphasizing how closely intertwined the two are. I’m so grateful to be Scientifica’s next Editor-in-Chief and proud to continue the publication’s goals of making science accessible by illustrating concepts and telling stories that matter. I’m thankful to Anuj Shah, our past Editor-in-Chief, the previous CORE teams, and graduating staff for developing Scientifica into an insightful, informative, and artistic magazine, and I’m fortunate to be working alongside the Scientifica team and with our advisor, Roger Williams. As the end of the school year approaches, I wish everyone a safe summer and look forward to next semester.
letter from the editorial Advisor The pandemic continues to affect our economy and every other facet of our lives. Due to the tremendous efforts of those in science, the light at the end of this troubling period is in sight. Even though many Americans have and will get vaccinated, it is even more important for us to stay the course and continue to social distance and wear our masks. Lowering our guard at this stage could send us backward instead of through this pandemic. Unfortunately, some groups are disproportionately affected by the virus and we at Scientifica highlight this in the pages that follow. As a society, it is important to realize that the more we allow the spread of the virus the greater the likelihood of variants of SARS-CoV-2 developing. At the time of this publication, the dominant strain in the United States is now the UK strain which is 50% more transmissible than the original strain we encountered back in March 2020. Additionally, college-aged individuals are more likely to get this strain. False and Roger I. Williams Jr., M.S. Ed. misleading information is on the rise and we must all do our part to educate those around us. Please Director, Student Activities Advisor, enjoy this issue and share what you may learn with those close to you. Best and be safe.
Microbiology & Immunology Editorial Advisor, UMiami Scientifica
Anam Ahmed Abigail Adera Austin Berger Snigdha Sama Meera Patel Megan Piller Megan Buras Avery Boals Kim Sookoo Setareh Gooshvar Amirah Rashed Gabriella Guerriero Ainsley Hilliard Sofia Mohammad Mac Clifton Victoria Pinilla Roger Williams, M.S. Ed. 4
c o r e t e a m
Editor-in-Chief Managing Editor Managing Editor Copy Chief Design Director Design Director Art Director Director of Photography Director of Creative Writing Associate Director of Creative Writing Secretary Director of Public Relations Director of Distribution Director of Community Outreach Webmaster Board of Advisors Liason Editorial Advisor
S c i e n t i f I C A S TA F F 2 0 2 1 ETHICS NEWS RESEARCH HEALTH PROFILES
Amirah Rashed Yashmitha Sadasivuni Alex Hawkins Marissa Maddalon Setareh Gooshvar
A r t i s t s
Adrianna Davis Anuj Shah Zac Shamah Zach Zagon
P h oto g r a p H e r s
Sneha Akurati Megan Buras Cherri Chen Carolina Hernandez Megan Piller Anuj Shah Varsha Udayakumar
Sneha Akurati Megan Buras Cherri Chen Carolina Hernandez Naynika Juvvadi Geethika Kataru Meera Patel Megan Piller Anuj Shah Varsha Udayakumar Annette Yates
D E S I G N E R S
Sneh Amin Aarti Madhu Gabriella Guerriero Dhara Patel Anuj Shah
Sneh Amin Kyle Banker Avery Boals Caleb Heathershaw Jasson Makkar Sophia Meibohm Yazmin Quevedo Aarohi Talati Jasmine Tebbi Christian Rivera Laura Vieira
CO PY E D I TO R S
Sneha Akurati Kyle Banker Sofia Cartaya Sydney Cloutier Tarek Ghaddar Setareh Gooshvar Caleb Heathershaw Rahul Kumar Isabella Lopez Marissa Maddalon Angeline Medvid Natalia Perez Baez Megan Piller Christian Rivera Snigdha Sama Anuj Shah Bhavana Srikakolapu Emily Tano
W R I T E R S
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
B oa r d o f A dv i s o r s
The Messy Truth
Unsafe conditions. Unfair wages. Unreasonable expectations. For janitorial staff—the unspoken heroes behind the reopening of universities— these are daily realities when on the clock.
by Natalia Perez Baez Photography & Design: Anuj Shah
A | section
hile I am fortunate to see my friends on campus this spring, many other students throughout the world are not quite as lucky. Some universities have chosen to open, while others decided that the risk was not worth it. Those that did open have done so on the assumption that there would be a certain level of compliance with the security measure guidelines set by the CDC and the respective university. However, as we have seen throughout the past two semesters, there has been an inevitable spread of COVID-19 among students, faculty, and campus workers, especially among janitorial and custodial staff. This is particularly important because the role of the janitorial and custodial staff is often overlooked, but frankly, if it weren’t for them, no university would even consider reopening campus during a pandemic. Why? Because they are the disinfectors: disarming fomites at every corner of our campuses. This enables students and faculty to participate in in-person academic instruction, reside on campus, study in an array of locations and buildings, eat at various on-campus dining halls, and even host student-led events. And while we know that this was in their job description prior to the pandemic, it is important to acknowledge that they are still committing to the job now, a time during which the nature of their work puts them at an elevated risk of contracting a life-threatening virus. This would be less of an issue if they were at least completing their job under the right conditions and with the appropriate equipment; however, that is not the case. Throughout the country, there are documented cases of university-contracted janitorial staff revealing the lack of adequate equipment provided for them to complete job tasks. They also quote being overworked and not having a channel to voice their complaints. I recently spoke to one member of the janitorial staff who has been contracted by ABM Industries to work at the University of Miami for over 10 years. She explained how in March of 2020, there was huge uncertainty regarding job security as the pandemic loomed over. After hearing that the university would partially resume in-person
instruction for fall of 2020, her and many others had a big decision to make: life or livelihood? Although many chose to continue working despite the dangers that came with the job, a significant number of employees could not out of fear for their health and for their families. Those that decided to stay would now have to balance work and safety, yet it was not as easy as they originally anticipated. The worker, who prefers to remain anonymous, detailed how she and the other employees were barely provided personal protective equipment (PPE) or any other sort of safety equipment and just supplied a cloth mask that was so flimsy in nature it was completely transparent. Even after masks were finally provided, workers were denied other simple safety-related requests by ABM, and requests that were accepted were often not implemented. She also recalled how ABM struggled to define and enforce safety protocols among workers, leaving room for confusion and misinterpretation, which had real-life consequences when fellow workers fell sick with COVID-19. Though ABM’s original contract with the university was maintained at the onset of the pandemic, ABM continued to cut personnel, citing a decrease in need, even though there was no reported increase in the wages of their remaining employees. The negligence of ABM extends to disregarding excessive worker expectations, and many employees have attempted to voice their concerns about being overworked, especially in unsafe times. Despite this, employees often continue to receive unreasonable assignments, and are often expected to clean entire buildings or facilities multiple times a day without having the personnel to do so. These unsafe working conditions are further exacerbated by exploitative policies related to potential COVID-19 exposures, as employees forced to quarantine for at least a week receive docked pay equivalent to Florida’s minimum wage, $8.65, during that time. For the majority of employees, especially those living paycheck to paycheck, the nearly three-dollar drop in hourly wages from $11.15 to the minimum wage for the period of quarantine is simply untenable. But what seemed to concern her the most was a lack of transparency and honest communication. On several occasions, workers were not told when they were cleaning an area where
A used mask lies on a desk in a classroom in Dooly Memorial Building.
An ABM employee stands in front of Cox Science Building.
Clockwise from top left: A “safety first” inscription on the uniforms of ABM employees; the rigorous disinfecting process in a classroom in Cox Science Building; an apron containing the logo of ABM, whose 2019 revenue was listed at $6.5 billion; a latex glove on the edge of a trash can in a classroom.
an infected person had previously been, such as the residential colleges where quarantining and infected students were being kept, leading employees to arrive unprepared and without adequate PPE and safety gear. Wouldn’t you want to be informed that you were in charge of disinfecting a dorm room that recently housed a quarantined or isolated student? Wouldn’t you want to be informed that you were cleaning the classroom or the desk of a student who had recently fallen ill with COVID-19? This was not a right that was granted to the janitorial staff. This continues to be a problem faced by many ABM employees, who speak out regarding this issue in hopes that ABM will take their requests into consideration in order to reduce the risk of their exposure to COVID-19. In a time when the general public’s health is at risk, we must remember that a high proportion of these employees are elderly and particularly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. When ABM refuses to improve their pay and working conditions, the University of Miami should feel obligated to step in and listen to the complaints of workers, as the university possesses the ability to create safer working environments, the resources to properly compensate employees, and the power to force ABM to improve its transparency and treatment of workers. Ultimately, as with any other company, ABM must be held accountable for the health and well-being of its employees, who continue to work in hazardous conditions. However, these problems are not limited to South Florida. Similar issues have come up in universities throughout the country—one of the most notable cases occurred at Stanford University. In early April 2020 after the ceasing of campus operations, the custodial staff were abruptly laid off due to the pandemic, eliminating any sort of financial compensation or benefits they previously had during a time where they needed it the most. This situation drew so much attention from highprofile alumni that Stanford University committed to providing the custodial staff with three additional paychecks. The story of Stanford and that of our own ABM workers should be one of motivation for us all: to advocate and support the cause of these unspoken heroes, who risk so much for so little in return. It is important that we continue to raise awareness on this issue and commit to exposing the truths of these workers who are the reason we find ourselves safely back on campus.
8 | Ethics
Fact Becomes Fiction When
by Setareh Gooshvar Design: Geethika Kataru
hy do we lie? While the adage, “Honesty is the best policy” may be true, deception is part of what makes us human. However, we must also explore the psychological and environmental factors that make some of us more prone to dishonesty and others more prone to believing them. Lying has been with humanity for almost as long as we have had language. It gave us the ability to manipulate others without getting physical. In the grand scheme of survival, attaining power without force is incredibly useful and gave our ancestors an advantage in the competition for resources and mates. Social science researchers and neuroscientists have investigated questions such as: what are the psychological and neurobiological foundations for lying? Where do we as individuals
It turns out that many of us are actually quite good at lying. We lie easily, whether they be white lies or not, to strangers, friends, and everyone in between. In fact, it is our capacity for deceit that makes us so terrible at detecting when we are being lied to. Much of our knowledge has come from others and our implicit trust in them. Without this, human relationships would be stunted and scarce. It is precisely this trust as well as the acknowledgment of occasionally being duped, that allows human communication to flourish. However, our belief that people are generally truthful is precisely what provides the so-called “liar’s advantage.” People do not expect to be lied to and want to believe what they hear. We provide little to no pushback against claims that align with our beliefs, comfort us, and please us. Indeed, this effect is only exacerbated when we are lied to by those who are bathed in authority, wealth, and status.
“Lying has been with humanity for almost as long as we have had language” draw the line? It turns out that people are quite prone to believing misinformation even when they are provided clear evidence proving otherwise. In an age where much of our news and knowledge of current events comes from social media, we are in a prime position to deceive and be deceived. In short, our ability to separate truth from lies, and fact from fiction, has come under siege. A concept called the theory of the mind is the basis of our understanding of the beliefs, intentions, and knowledge of others. The brain’s executive function, including the abilities needed for planning, attention, and self-control, often rely on deception as the most logical conclusion. If lying is wired to come naturally, why don’t we lie more? As a general rule, we see ourselves as honest. This is due to the societal pressure that has established honesty as a valuable quality to possess. Therefore, many of us place limits on how much and to what extent we are willing to lie. This is of course all determined by the social norms arrived at by an invisible consensus.
10 | Ethics
Researchers have also shown that lies that perpetuate our perspective of the status quo are more likely to be assimilated into our worldview. In fact, debunking these deceptions does not work to disarm them. This is due to the fact that people consume evidence through their framework of preexisting beliefs and prejudices. When facts are presented to us that do not fit into our worldview, we exhibit reactions ranging from ignoring the facts to becoming aggressive and attacking those facts that may threaten our view. It is precisely this vulnerability that is preyed on by social media, authority figures, and proponents of conspiracy theories. How do conspiracy theories get started? Who believes them and why? A conspiracy theory is the idea and belief that a powerful group of people is carrying out a plan in secret in order to bring some sinister goal to fruition. While it may seem that conspiracy theories have become more common in recent years, they have always been with
the human race. Just as it is natural for us to believe others so too is it natural to be suspicious of the actions of others we may not understand. However, with the dawn of the Internet, it has become increasingly easy to access conspiracy theories online. False sources and groups of people with similar views are just a few clicks away. Thus, it becomes simple to engage in large-scale confirmation bias in which individuals disregard diverse sources that may be contradictory to their worldview and further polarizes their view of a particular issue. Psychologically, people are motivated by epistemic, existential, and social reasons to believe in conspiracy theories. Epistemic needs refer to the desire to be in the possession of knowledge. Especially when in the midst of major events, people understandably want to regain control through understanding the sequence of events and learning the truth. It is not just important to have the truth however, it is equally important to feel certain of the truth. When people feel uncertain about the truth, they are drawn more closely to conspiracy theories as they attempt to take the investigation for the truth into their own hands. Existential motives refer to the need to feel safe in the world and to be autonomous in one’s life and decisions. Once again, when people feel that they are powerless they can become more prone to believing in conspiracy theories in order to provide themselves a modicum of stability and comfort. In fact, research has shown that when people feel disillusioned and cheated they tend to gravitate more towards conspiracy theories. Social motives refer to our desire to feel good about ourselves and to have high self-esteem. Thus, a potential method for achieving selffulfillment and self-confidence would be to have access to information you feel others do not have. Believing that you know some hidden truth in a world of lies can manifest as a feeling of superiority over others. Combined with a need for uniqueness and exceptionality, the promise of a conspiracy theory shines especially brightly. Regardless of who you are, it is likely that you have lied and been lied to. Therefore, it is important to realize that as much as deceit is built into our biology and society, it is also a vulnerability shared among us all. Without the necessary trust and ability to properly vet information, it is simple for the lines to blur between what is true and what is false. In this way, it is indeed possible for fact to become fiction.
Your Brain and the Double-tap
The Psychological Effects of Social Media by Kyle Banker Illustration & Design: Varsha Udayakumar
here is a good chance that you woke up today and looked at your phone, hoping to see notifications from Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and other social media platforms. Don’t worry; it is not your fault. Rather, it is an instinct to check your phone first thing in the morning, as you are interested in seeing other people’s opinions, requests, and advertising. You then get out of bed, get ready, and as you are walking to class, you decide to check your Instagram to see how many likes your selfie got. Unfortunately, you did not receive as many likes as you wanted; how does that make you feel? Do you want to delete the picture to prevent other people from judging how many likes your post got? You decide to figure it out later and arrive at your class. A few minutes before class starts, you check your Snapchat to see your recent contacts. Why hasn’t anyone responded to you all day? You put your phone down as the class starts, knowing that you will be picking it up at the very minute the class ends to click through these platforms again.
12 | Ethics
As a college student, this is how I check my phone throughout the day. These thoughts flow not only through my head but also from people all around the world. Why do we have these negative feelings when we don’t get likes on Instagram pictures or when no one responds to your Snapchat? Why do we feel ecstatic and confident when we receive a lot of engagement on a Facebook post? This is because there is a great number of psychological thought processes that dictate how a user interacts and thinks about social media. Students at the University of Miami are no different, and upon interviewing many and comparing their experiences to that of documented scientific literature, I found many parallels. First, let’s dive into the concept of ‘likes’ and how individuals value them. Likes on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter represent how many people click a button on your post to show their enjoyment of your content. However, this system is not always uplifting and can go either way. Say you have 400 followers on Instagram when you post a picture, and four hours later, the picture gets
700 likes. How would you feel once seeing the high like count? It should make you feel good due to a rush of dopamine based on the received positive feedback. A study conducted in 2016 with 32 teenagers showed that when the subjects saw their photos with a large number of likes, there was activity across a wide variety of regions in the brain, mostly including the nucleus accumbens. The reason why the reward pathway in our brain “lights up” when we see our achievement is because we want to give off the best impressions to people who view our page for the first time. From the same study mentioned above, the teenagers were also shown “neutral” photos, including pictures of food and friends. The researchers found that no matter what the picture was, the teenagers were more likely to like the post that already had a substantial amount of likes. So, if your posts are doing “well” to your standards, then you are expected to be feeling good. However, social media is all about judgment, and unfortunately, things do not always go your way. If your posts do not receive much engagement, then your feelings can go south very quickly. Instead of transmitting high levels of dopamine with high likes, people’s dopamine levels will drop, which ultimately makes them less likely to achieve a goal. For example, you plan to go on a run around the neighborhood, and you check and see that your most recent Tweet did not receive as many likes as you hoped. Will you still be as motivated to go on that run as before? Probably not. All of these mind games come down to how much you value social media. If you believe that other people’s opinions are facts, then your esteem and confidence will be low, and you will consistently seek approval. So, if you are going to use social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, you need to come to terms with the fact that you cannot control how many likes you get. I also believe that the idea of a ‘follower count’ leads to stress for social media users. People care so much about their follower count because they perceive they may be judged by others on a lower follower count. In the end, social media should not be used to compare followings but rather as a tool for aspiration and positivity. Stephen Buckley, an expert from Mental Health Charity Mind, states that “while low self-esteem isn’t in itself a mental health problem, the two are closely linked. Low self-esteem could, in turn, contribute to depression or other mental health problems, so it is vital to use social media safely and recognize when it might be having a negative impact on your
“Social media is all about judgment, and unfortunately, things do not always go your way.” mental health.” No matter if it is about likes or followers, the best thing you can do to maintain your mental health is to focus on yourself and not others, because social media is all about what you want to share and not what others may push you to do. I decided to get an even deeper understanding of how social media is used by teenagers and young adults. To do so, I released a Google Form to students at the University of Miami to see how they approach and think about social media platforms. In total, I received responses from 86 students. To break down the student demographic, most of the respondents were sophomores and juniors, and 62% of the respondents were male while 35% of the respondents were female. Most of the students, about 66%, only post on social media every once in a while, and 41% picked Instagram as their favorite social media platform. Of these respondents, almost half use social media for 1-3 hours daily, and the greater majority use it for 3-5 hours daily. When asked how they would feel if one of their posts did not get over a hundred likes or comments, 50% of respondents said they would not care, and 48% said that it would bother them, but it would not be a big deal. The students were also asked about whether they care about their follower count or not; about two-thirds of the respondents said that followers do not matter to them. Finally, they were asked whether they believe that social media has an overall positive or negative effect on their mental health; 35% said that it has a positive effect while 64% feels like it has a negative effect.
total students surveyed
mostly sophomores and juniors
only post once in a while
Instagram as favorite platform
2/3 don't care about followers
use social media for 1-3 hours a day
greater majority use 3-5 hours a day
don't care about likes
bothered by likes but not a big deal
positive mental impact
negative mental impact
14 | Ethics
Throughout the data collection process, I was asked a lot about the purpose of the survey. I was looking for three things: if UM students care about likes, followers, and whether or not they believe that social media is beneficial for your brain. While I was not able to interview every single student at the University of Miami, I stuck with a smaller sample size while still maintaining as much diversity as possible (age, major, gender, etc). I find the data about the daily usage of social media to be unsurprising, as I expected most students to use social media for around 3-5 hours a day. As all social media users know, it is easy to spend great amounts of time looking at Instagram pictures or answering Snapchats. The survey also shows that the respondents do not put a lot of time into caring about their followers and likes. As someone who does so myself, I am happy that others are not afraid to be judged by the general public based upon pure numbers on their social media pages. However, the data point that I find the most important, and what I would like to end on, is the way University of Miami students view social media in terms of their mental health. There was an overwhelming majority that agreed that social media has a negative impact, which makes sense. The negatives arise through instances such as the anxiety of posting and hoping that you get hundreds of likes and being compared to other people based upon follower counts. There are so many small actions and events that can cause platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook to be stressful, number-based, and sometimes not even enjoyable. In the end, I find it most important to have fun and be free on social media, but in today’s society, that does not seem to be the case. While there are positive aspects to social media, such as seeing your friends’ content or getting a ton of engagement, many of the respondents may see that the countless cons can significantly outweigh the few positives. In conclusion, social media has its ups and downs, but it completely depends on how you view and use certain platforms. The psychological effects of these platforms show that even the smallest actions, such as someone double-tapping your post, can send waves of excitement through your head. However, when you face the downsides of social media, it can lead to instances of sadness and a lack of motivation. Posting on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms is all in your control, but the external factors from engagement are not controllable. Be careful with how you use social media because while it can be amazing and show how awesome of a person you are, it also has the potential to make you may feel vulnerable and down if your posts do not perform the way you had hoped.
anuary 21st, 2021 marked the first anniversary of the initial .. COVID case reported in the United States. Currently, more than twenty-seven million cases have been detected in the US alone. The pandemic has affected the way an entire country operates and changed the way in which daily life is led. For some, this effect is as trivial as the inconvenience of ruining an outfit with a mask, but for most, the impact runs much deeper. The cloud of economic struggles and constant fear for the health and safety of individuals and their loved ones has cast a yearlong shadow that will take a great amount of time to break through. With the emergence of vaccines and reparations underway, the impacts of the virus are trying to be kept at bay; however, this attempted reconstruction of society does not apply equally to all populations throughout the US. With a limited amount of resources available, the main priority groups for the allocation of the vaccine include healthcare workers, the elderly population, and essential workers. Individuals that are categorized as essential workers are those that participate in actions necessary for a society to function. This wide range of individuals includes workers in food and agriculture, emergency services, and manufacturing. Workers not classified as essential were urged to stay at home at the beginning of the pandemic to limit possible exposure and spread of illness. Although this suggestion was put forth to aid in the health of communities, the economic burden introduced to several industries was detrimental. Businesses closing and the decline in economic growth resulted in the dismissal of employees, making the unemployment rate rise to an all-time high of 14.7% in April 2020. Debates over who should be allowed to return to work arose, as well as whether financial stability was worth the health risk. As the pandemic progressed and businesses reopened, the unemployment rate gradually dropped to 6.3%..
COVID-19: ONe YEAR LATER
An Overview of the Pandemic’s Socioeconomic Disparities by Angeline Medvid design: Megan Piller
That being said, workers that can work from home are still urged to do so. Currently, more than 62 million vaccines have been distributed in the United States and about 43 million have been administered. Fortunately, the availability of the vaccine is increasing; however, an issue arises when one considers that the availability of a vaccine does not equate to the accessibility of it. Some of the most at-risk individuals may have the hardest time finding access to vaccines and testing sites. Obstacles such as homelessness or lack of transport, healthcare, and information may serve as barriers to accessibility. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, individuals of certain racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to be uninsured, resulting in hesitation to seek medical care or explore vaccination options. In addition, COVID-19 has proven to have a disproportionate impact on communities of color. The mortality rate for African-Americans that were infected with the virus has been around two times that of non-Hispanic whites. This imbalance may be due to occupation variance where certain individuals are more at risk for potential exposure, as well as a lack of pharmacies, hospitals, and transportation in these communities where COVID-19 is most rampant. Even with this evident disparity, only around five percent of the people that had received the coronavirus vaccine were African-American within the first month of distribution. Furthermore, the accurate delivery of medical and public health information is extremely important to help reduce transmission during a pandemic. Communication gaps are more likely to be present within communities of minority groups due to circumstances such as language barriers or well-founded historical distrust of authority, as well as the overarching issue of health inequity. In the coming months, government officials and authority figures will need to find ways to surpass these obstacles so that health and safety can be attainable for all people.
Alligator Etiquette Preservation and Education in the Everglades National Park by Sydney Cloutier
16 | News
fees without educating visitors on the alligators unless requested. Instead, a sign posted at the head of the trail, reading to keep back fifteen feet from alligators is the only instruction guests receive. Maintaining one’s distance proves virtually impossible on the eightfoot-wide trail, as countless alligators bask on it. Bicyclists must swerve to avoid both the large reptiles and the guests, who at many times are
Alligator in water, Anuj Shah
he Everglades National Park is home to thousands of plant and animal species across its one and a half million acres of land. Each year, over a million tourists visit the park, many hoping to spot one of its more infamous inhabitants: the American alligator. Also known as the Alligator mississippiensis, it was removed from the endangered species list in 1987. Today, over two hundred thousand reside in the Everglades. While not the most attractive creature to be found in the park, it certainly has developed a reputation as one of the most profitable. Stop at any shop west of Miami, and more often than not, it will be littered with alligator trinkets—be it teeth or keychains. For many, the closest experience of being near a live alligator would be at a zoo or an alligator farm. However, part of the Everglades’ appeal is that it removes the barrier of a fence and provides a largely unsupervised glimpse into nature. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of humans have had the opportunity to interact with these creatures void of guidance. However, while visiting the park provides the unparalleled experience of viewing nature “uninterrupted”, human interaction can negatively impact the American alligator and its ecosystem. To prevent this, the Everglades National Park should implement more thorough preservation through an education campaign on the dangers of interacting with alligators. Raising enough funding for this should be no problem—the park rakes in a substantial amount of money. For example, Shark Valley Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Everglades National Park. A significant appeal for many visitors is this fifteen-mile-long paved path, which during the winter dry season becomes a haven where the American alligator is frequently found sunbathing. With a visitor center and tram tours, this trail is one of the most commercialized in the whole park. Shark Valley is the ideal location to view alligators without needing to be an experienced backpacker. For this reason, it is heavily trafficked, and its parking lot entrance fee is one of the park’s primary sources of income. Every month, thousands of visitors pay to park at the trail entrance to see the alligators. This is the ideal opportunity for the National Park Service to collect funds for park preservation while educating guests on the American alligator—how to respect it and its role in the ecosystem. Unfortunately, the Park Service does not do so, as they only collect
only an arm’s length away from the alligators, snapping photos. Alligators at the Everglades National Park have two roles. The first is as an apex predator, maintaining the ecological balance of species. Their second job is to attract revenue to the park. When conservationists spend too much time on preservation and not enough time on education, the very revenue generated by the alligator for its preservation is the same revenue hurting the species. This is not intentional but rather caused by ignorance from uninformed guests. Actions such as feeding the alligators, picking up their babies, or not maintaining physical distance from them can desensitize them to human interaction. This is present at Shark Valley, where the alligators are not skittish and allow humans to approach within a foot or two of them. At Big Cypress National Preserve—about twenty miles west and much less trafficked—the American alligators are significantly wearier of humans and are more likely to flee when approached at a much further distance. The fact that alligators in the Everglades do not display this behavior is troubling. It is indicative of a new numbness to human presence. While this inaction does not necessarily imply illegal feeding has occurred, the chances of it happening in such a frequented area are greatly heightened. This is especially alarming,
Everglades National Park, Aarti Madhu
of this and future generations.” As of now, they fail to uphold their oath to education. Society has the right to visit the Everglades to learn about the American alligator and its role in the ecosystem. Unfortunately, merely providing a trail on which one can encounter alligators is not enough. Instead, the park should make an effort to have rangers accessible to educate visitors on the alligators’ importance and safety measures when encountering them. By doing so, the National Park is actively investing money earned by the American alligator into its preservation through raising awareness and ensuring guests respect its boundaries. Spending the revenue to have rangers stationed along the trail can allow for a greater number of visitors to Shark Valley, as the park will be able to monitor guests’ interactions with the alligators.
An alligator stares, Anuj Shah
as most guests are not informed that this is prohibited. With already desensitized alligators, continued inappropriate behavior is almost certain to cause an increase in alligator-related injuries. At the moment, many Shark Valley alligators are unafraid of being approached by humans. If they believe that they are to be fed, this may provoke the species to approach humans themselves for food, possibly becoming more aggressive if it is not received. The National Park Service’s mission statement is to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration
To ensure that the American alligator can fulfil its role in the ecosystem without limitation from humans, education must increase. By doing so, humans can continue visiting the Everglades National Park in large numbers. Dr. Donald McNeill, Professor of Our Geoheritage: Geology of America’s National Parks at the University of Miami, calls attention to the fact that the park should serve as an “intangible good for people to be aware of the environment and nature,” and says that in theory, “the more people that visit the park, the more support there is for preservation.” Preservation does not inherently deteriorate with the quantity of human interaction. Often, it is dependent on the quality of those interactions. When a National Park visit creates a positive change through education, this experience is priceless and can benefit the land. This is the mentality the National Park Service must have while attempting to preserve the Everglades and the American alligator.
“preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations” Illustration & Design: Cherri Chen Photography: Anuj Shah and Aarti Madhu
OUR MARTIAN STORY
Illustration & Design: Anuj Shah
Visions of Mars in History, Culture, and the Future by Caleb Heathershaw
Prologue “I was a battleground of fear and curiosity.” Then came the falling stars. A series of black cylinders crashed to Earth with mathematical precision. A few townsfolk gawked at the strange meteorites while kids played tag inside the crater. The lid of the cylinder sizzled, slowly sliding open. From the shadows, a dark thing crept into the air. Shadowy grey skin, glowing eyes, writhing tentacles, this thing was inhuman. The Martian invasion had begun. In his 1898 novel, The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells encapsulates humanity’s impression of Mars: a dazzling concoction of fear and curiosity. We on Earth have fantasized about Martian civilizations—of both human and alien origin—since we could see the Red Planet. Today, mankind’s fantasy is on the cusp of becoming reality. Still, we face a daunting challenge in our story. As we wander through visions of Mars in history, culture and the future, we’ll discover that our greatest obstacle may not be extraterrestrial assailants. In Our Martian Story, our greatest obstacle may be human nature itself. Looking Back Bloodstained. Heroic protector. God of war: Mars. Cultural fantasies of Mars have changed throughout history, but the intrigue surrounding the Red Planet still seems to live up to the mythos of its namesake Roman deity. With the dawn of telescopes, we discovered white caps of frozen water, yellow clouds of atmosphere and dark lines carved into the Martian surface like agricultural canals. Our stories began to fill with wild alien civilizations. As the first airplanes took flight, imaginations again shifted: the Martians were no longer coming to us. We were going to them. In works exploring Martian civilization including The Martian Chronicles and The Martian Way, dystopian authors like Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov imagined extraterrestrial encounters on Mars while offering cultural commentaries exploring war, race, communism and environmental apocalypse. These stories hinged on one crucial question: Would Martian civilization crumble or thrive? Mankind was determined to find out. Our Martian Story accelerated in World War II. After developing the first ballistic missiles for Nazi Germany, genius rocket scientist Werner von Braun escaped to America in Operation Paperclip. In America, he devised a theoretical framework for space travel: first his rockets would hurtle out of Earth’s orbit, then reach the moon, and eventually land on Mars. To achieve the impossible, his ideas needed public support. He needed a storyteller. Enter Walt Disney, master storyteller. While developing a Disneyland TV show, Walt Disney discovered Von Braun and asked him to be the technological visionary of the show’s Tomorrowland space trilogy. In 1955, Man in Space hit television. Cartoon men bounced in zero gravity, rockets landed on the moon, Martian life
forms danced across strange landscapes, and fleets of spaceships established our future on Mars. Americans loved it. Von Braun’s ideas and Disney’s animation captivated millions, from mere children to the President himself. When President Eisenhower saw Man in Space he immediately requested Pentagon officials watch the program and begin developing the first satellites. The American people wanted to go to space, but they needed a leader. President John F. Kennedy cast his mission in the 1962 “Moon Speech.” His goal: put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. Cold War tensions heightened the urgency of the mission, but his vision was broader. He cast space exploration as mankind’s greatest adventure saying, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” With those words, the Space Race began. Designed by Von Braun in 1969, the Saturn V rocket carried men to the Moon with the expectation that Martian travel wasn’t far behind. In 1964, early in the space race, the Mariner 4 satellite returned the first images of Mars. We didn’t see bustling cities or primitive farms, but a crater-ridden desert. Public imagination crashed. Fantasies of super-intelligent Martian civilizations died out, but stories of simple life forms continued. Although Mars fever went silent, personal captivation with our Martian destiny continued to simmer. Looking Ahead We are entering a new chapter of Martian exploration. Tech billionaires like Elon Musk and public science figures like Neil DeGrasse Tyson are reinvigorating American space enthusiasm, but getting to Mars will require all of society’s support. We need kids dreaming of Martian cities. We need new engineers, psychologists, doctors, scientists, storytellers, and ordinary people unified towards exploration. Our Martian Story will cycle through 4 stages: Expedition, Outpost, Colonization, and Civilization. Stage 1 | Expedition (2026). We are 50 years into this phase. Perseverance—the fifth ever rover to reach Mars—landed on February 18th of this year to search for evidence of microbial life. We’ve photographed the entire surface in exquisite detail, sampled the environment, and planned manned explorations. A 5-10 person crew will embark on a nine-month journey to Mars in a module the size of an RV. The astronauts are being selected and we are prepared to launch in this decade. The largest mission obstacle might be socio-psychological. The first Martian crew will be alone, further away from their homes than any humans ever, squeezed in a psychological vice of extreme isolation and surveillance, with the possibility of never returning to Earth. The Mars500 project locked six individuals in a tiny module for 520 days to study these situations. They reinforced detrimental physiological issues previously understood to plague constricted living, like
shortened sleep cycles, isolation, and increased stress levels. But it also introduced one extraordinary new challenge. Due to the 133 million mile distance, all communication has a 20 minute lag, so astronauts can’t facetime their families or receive immediate advice from mission control. Astronauts depend on the connection to home for psychological wellness; it is unclear what they will experience when Earth becomes a speck in the sky. Stage 2 | Outpost (2035). If the first missions succeed, a small temporary Martian outpost could support scientific experimentation and further exploration. Like on the International Space Station or an Antarctic base, culture would be mission driven and survival oriented. We could experiment with long-term habitat models, establish rocket propellant factories, or begin to shape the landscape. The Martian (2015) imagines this in stunning detail. In the film, a small NASA crew travels to Mars but astronaut-botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) appears to die in a dust storm. The crew leaves with the belief he has died. He survived, but now he’s alone. Very alone. For two years, he waits for rescue by growing potatoes in his own poop and messaging Earth with a hotwired antique rover. Although Watney would’ve died from radiation (no atmosphere), rather than been blown away in a dust storm (no atmosphere), this film depicts Martian astronauts well— creative, profoundly motivated, and composed in dangerous situations. Stage 3 | Colonization (2050). A Martian city could serve as a lifeline and an experiment in civilization. We haven’t yet conquered the Moon, the deep sea, the labyrinthine caverns, or the icy wastelands of the south, but Mars offers a grander experiment. How could colonial life affect the self-identity of those in space? We could have Martian babies, Martian social structure, Martian morals. Altruism (the ability to value the group above yourself) and ingenuity (the ability to be technologically creative under pressure) might rise as virtues. Martian identity could supersede national, even Earthly identity. If the Martian city thrived, we could move into the fourth phase. Stage 4 | Civilization (2150). In the Civilization phase, Mars could form a unique society whether organic or planned. Independent from Earth, Martian people may form new cultures, countries, languages, religions, or ideals. Cultural friction between Earth and Mars could
exacerbate tension much like conflicts between European colonies and their parent countries. Cultural consequences were ignored in 17th century colonization, they shouldn’t be ignored again. Modern TV shows like The 100 (Netflix) and The Expanse (Amazon Prime) imagine civilizations on Mars and beyond. In both shows, huge geopolitical conflicts erupt fueled by planetary discrimination, climate conflicts, financial envy, and personal tension. Is this the inevitable future of Martian civilization? It remains to be seen. Stage 5 | Terraforming (2500). The purely imaginative Terraform phase envisions the reengineering of Mars itself: the heating of the planet, the creation of a Martian atmosphere, the formation of seas and forests. Overcoming physical limits (like where to get an atmosphere, how to produce enough energy to restart a planet’s core, how to fund such ventures) would require massive technological revolution in the next millennium. Still, the possibility of a Martian paradise is an enticing fantasy. The 1990s science fiction book saga by Kim Robinson, Mars Trilogy, envisions these five phases. Mars goes from red to green to blue. First, four people landed, then a colony of 100 individuals became a full civilization. While Earth faced corporate domination and a climate apocalypse, an immigration catastrophe sparked WWIII with Mars. Finally, the governments and people united, closing the trilogy in a fragile utopia. Robinson’s vision of Mars is perhaps the most hauntingly conceivable: a warzone seems to precede a paradise. Epilogue | Looking Up How did H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds end? The Martian invaders enslaved the entire Earth but suddenly were wiped out by a viral plague. Sound familiar? Cataclysmic bio-disaster, environmental decay, socio-political devolution: the deadliest planet in the solar system is not Mars, it’s Earth. We face our own “war of the worlds” not against alien invaders, but against ourselves. Our war is not against farcical space tyrants, but against our society’s own fears, flaws, and failures. Mars offers more than an escape, Mars offers us a grand experiment in human resilience and innovation. May we be cautious but endlessly curious as we embark on the next chapter in Our Martian Story.
“Getting to Mars will require all of society’s support. We need kids dreaming of Martian cities. We need new engineers, psychologists, doctors, scientists, storytellers, and ordinary people unified towards exploration.”
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Getting to Mars and surviving there would require an immense technical feat, and would stand as a true testament to human intellect and ingenuity. We’re quickly approaching a time where that may be a necessity.
What It Will Take To Send Us to Mars
Seven Months and Beyond
by Anuj Shah
o humans have a future on Earth? It’s a scary question. Arguably, the answer researchers provide is even scarier. Many scientists have long posited that the future of the human race lies past Earth, and enthusiasts have shared this desire to expand beyond our home planet and to the rest of our solar system and galaxy. But more and more of these scientists—astrophysicists, ecologists, and climate scientists alike—are now also sending out warnings that our days on Earth are numbered. With the rising effects of human-caused climate change, an ongoing mass extinction, and potential nuclear threats, scientists now fear that it won’t be a question of whether we want to leave, but rather how soon until we need to flee our home planet. Earth is quickly becoming less habitable for an increasing number of species. A United Nations report from 2019 states that over 1 million of the world’s plant and animal species are at significant risk of extinction, many in the coming years and decades. The threat to biodiversity and life doesn’t just stop at plant and animal species either. In his book The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells describes some alarming estimates by climate scientists: if global temperatures rise another two degrees Celsius, as it is projected to do within a few decades, 135 million people will die from air pollution, and millions more will suffer climate-related displacement at the hands of rising sea levels, land erosion, and water salinization. As these issues become more pertinent, Mars has emerged as a crucial destination for humans to venture. As our distant neighbor, around 35 million miles away at its closest, Mars represents an important step in the search for life outside of Earth and the exploration of the rest of our solar system. Though the need to protect our planet has never been stronger, traveling to and surviving on Mars will be an equally straining test of humanity’s resilience and willpower. The first challenge is one of the toughest— to get humans to Mars in the first place. The trip itself takes seven months, and missions can only leave from Earth or the moon during a narrow window of time that comes around every two years due to differences in the orbits of Mars and Earth. The journey, however, is one that has been made before. Several rovers have been launched from Earth and successfully landed on Mars for exploration, with the first rover being delivered by the U.S. spacecraft Mars Pathfinder in 1997. The most
recent rovers, launched by the U.S. and several other countries in July and August of 2020, are packed with state-of-the-art technology meant to carefully explore and analyze the Red Planet’s every feature, from the air and atmosphere to the landscape and soil. The newest U.S. rover, NASA’s Perseverance, touched down on February 18th and will be exploring an area called Jezero crater for signs of past or present microbial life. However, the task of taking humans to Mars is an entirely new prospect, and presents countless additional difficulties. Humans will need spaceships able to hold the necessary supplies needed for both the seven-month journey and operations on Mars, as well as fuel for the entire round-trip, and they’ll need to maintain their health and fitness while aboard. And while landing a delicately constructed, carsized rover is already a precarious task, safely landing a large ship filled with humans and equipment would require even more precision and safeguards against failure. Fortunately, scientists at companies and government space agencies are hard at work to solve these numerous problems. At the forefront of this is SpaceX, whose leader Elon Musk has been vocal about his company’s plans to send humans to and establish a base on Mars within the next decade or two. SpaceX has spent the last few years developing the Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket, which are meant to provide increased thrust and payload capacity compared to the company’s already impressive Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, while still maintaining the reusable nature of the vehicles and boosters. The Starship system is being constructed to transport both supply and crew to the moon and Mars, and represents a promising step forward in fully reusable spaceship technologies. Where does NASA play into all of this? Though its earliest Mars-related plans are set in the 2030s, of much greater value are NASA’s plans to establish an intermediate on the journey from Earth to Mars—a base on the moon. This lunar outpost proposed by the Artemis program will afford humans several key conveniences, including the chance to extract resources from the moon, the ability to store supplies for Mars missions, and the opportunity to launch rockets to Mars through the moon’s much weaker gravitational field. With future bases on the moon, the leap to Mars will become just a little bit shorter. Arriving at Mars, as monumental a task as it may be, is only the first step. Building a base
The Many Talents of Perseverance, NASA’s Newest Mars Rover Ingenuity Small robotic helicopter for testing in Martian atmosphere
Mastcam-Z Panorama camera system with zoom functions
Instrument for analysis of mineralogy and chemical composition
Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals, a UV spectrometer for finescale imaging
RIMFAX Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment, a ground penetrating radar to study geologic structures
MOXIE Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment, to produce oxygen from atmospheric carbon dioxide
Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer, sensors to measure temperature, wind, humidity, and dust levels
PIXL Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, to determine the elemental composition of Martian surface materials
8.9 feet on Mars is the next key goal, and comes with its own set of obstacles. To sum up decades worth of painstaking research, Mars is one giant death trap, with numerous threats to survival lurking at every corner. Fortunately, in identifying the planet’s less desirable characteristics, scientists have also laid the groundwork for a Mars base that solves all of the major problems through technological and design innovations, paired with a laundry list of items humans will need to bring to the planet. To start, Mars has an extremely thin atmosphere consisting mostly of carbon dioxide, requiring a base to be pressurized and filled with oxygen and nitrogen gases (which will need to be harvested from the environment and/or brought over). The base must also be constructed well enough to withstand this internal air pressure and keep out the toxic salts in Martian soil and dust. With this thin atmosphere and Mars’ weak magnetic field also comes a radiation-filled environment. To slow the onset of cancer and other effects of radiation poisoning in humans, a base will have to be covered in solid carbon dioxide and dirt, and astronauts will have to minimize the time they spend outside on the Martian surface, instead relying on robots and other remotely controlled or automated processes to complete their work. As for the water needed to sustain life, on Mars it is immobilized underground or in
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polar ice caps, which means a base will have to be positioned in an appropriate location and have the necessary technologies to harvest the water. Furthermore, to make use of this water to grow plants and produce food, the alkaline and nitrogen-starved Martian soil will need to be cleaned up, fertilized, and supplemented heavily. With all these ongoing processes comes the need for energy, and due to Mars’ location and surface conditions, solar and wind power will likely be insufficient. The most viable alternative? Nuclear power, according to scientists, may be the most promising energy source for both power plants on the moon and Mars and the future rockets that travel there. An early Mars base could theoretically even function off of nuclear material and a reactor from Earth. The first humans to make it to Mars will have to withstand immense danger and bodily harm, including the threat of cancer and lung disease, loss of bone and muscle strength due to the lack of gravity, and a host of other medical problems. Even more severe may be the mental impacts of loneliness and exhaustion, necessitating that mission control back home constantly monitors the crew members’ mental state and resilience. With the amount of resources needed to send astronauts back home, it is likely that many of the original crew members that make it to the Red Planet will live out the rest of their days
there. It’s an understatement to say that establishing a permanent base on Mars may be the most difficult challenge our species has ever faced. With the undeniable scientific rigor of the mission, along with the physical and mental toll it will take on astronauts, the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind is “why?”. Why pursue such lofty goals and face such peril simply to stare death in the eye on a desolate new world? It’s because exploration and expansion, though a privilege now, may no longer be a choice in the future if we want to survive. We have a crucial task ahead of us in the coming years—protecting this planet from the existential harms we’ve caused it. But whether Earth becomes uninhabitable in the near future because of irreversible climate change or in billions of years due to an expanding sun, when it comes time to leave our planet, will we be ready? In this light, reaching Mars, though an astounding technical feat in its own right, is ultimately a stepping stone for humans, one necessary if our species is to survive long into the future. Mars might not be the next permanent home of human civilization, but colonizing the planet is a must if we are to eventually expand out into our solar system and galaxy, and truly become a multiplanetary species.
United States Vaccination Efforts
the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
by Megan Piller 23
fter an unprecedented global effort during arguably one of the most efficient research and development processes, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued emergency use authorization for the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines on December 11, 2020, and December 18, 2020, respectively. Under the guidance of the Department of Health and Human Services, in an effort previously known as Operation Warp Speed, the distribution process for both vaccinations began 24 hours after FDA authorization was granted, with the first deliveries made to states on December 14, 2020. Unfortunately, “warp speed” would not be the most appropriate description for the United States’ vaccine distribution plan thus far. General Gustave F. Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, even went so far as to apologize for the horrendous “miscommunication” between federal and state governments regarding the dramatic difference in the number of vaccines promised to states compared to the number they received. In a press briefing, Perna stated, “I failed. I’m adjusting. I am fixing and we will move forward from there.” This apology came just five days after the first vaccine deliveries, signaling that the fight against COVID-19 was far from over. Former President Trump, along with government officials that helped to formulate the initial COVID vaccine, gave responses that seemed to dramatically overestimate their ability to properly distribute and efficiently utilize vaccine doses. Alex Azar, former Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, stated confidently in an interview with CBS in December of last year, that “100 million shots in arms by the end of February is very much in scope.” It has become abundantly clear that 100 million doses was an unattainable goal given the previous administration’s vaccine guidelines. As of February 22, 2021, only 13.3% of Americans had received at least one COVID-19 shot, with only 5.9% having received both. West Virginia has emerged as an unlikely leader in distribution and vaccination efforts, with 97% of their delivered shots administered and 16% of their population considered fully vaccinated. Alabama, in contrast, has had one of the worst COVID-19 vaccine responses, with only 73% of their delivered shots administered and 12% of their population having received the vaccine. This dramatic difference in success among
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states within the U.S. can be attributed to the fact that state governments are responsible for crafting and coordinating their own vaccination response plan: the federal government has thus far been responsible only for the weekly allocation of vaccine doses to each state based on their total adult populations. However, President Biden set a daunting goal of administering 100 million vaccines within his first 100 days in office and has been steadfast in his efforts to meet this goal thus far. Initially, the Biden-Harris administration increased the weekly vaccine shipment up 22% to 10.5 million doses and has the intention of increasing this figure as production increases. Key members of the White House COVID Equity Task Force announced on February 9, 2021 that COVID-19 vaccines will now be shipped directly to federally qualified community health centers. The plan entails the expansion of vaccine shipments to 250 health centers nationwide to amplify vaccination efforts in underserved communities and among hardto-reach populations. The first phase of this effort, involving about 50 health centers with at least one in each state, is projected to reach one million Americans. In addition the federal government, in partnership with state and local governments, will dramatically expand the number of vaccination sites available to Americans. Pharmacies, urgent care centers, and private physicians’ offices, along with unconventional sites such as conference centers and stadiums, are at the forefront of the effort to meet the ever-growing need for accessible vaccination sites. Hard Rock Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Texas Motor Speedway, and Dodger Stadium are some of the iconic sports centers that have opened their doors to the public, some for the first time in months, to contribute to a greater vaccination effort. The changes implemented by the new Biden-Harris administration seem to mark a turning point in the United States’ COVID-19 response with science and government once again working in cooperation with one another. However, as this pandemic has shown us, there can be no significant movement forward without setbacks. National and global COVID-19 infections have continued to skyrocket as pandemic fatigue reaches its peak, providing the virus with ample opportunity to mutate. B.1.1.7, B.1.351, and P.1 – COVID-19 variants found in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil respectively - have been proven to spread more efficiently and effectively, 25 to 40 percent
by some estimates, than original COVID-19 strains and have wasted no time in doing so across the United States. Thus far, studies on these variants suggest that the antibodies generated through vaccinations using the aforementioned Moderna and Pfizer vaccines recognize these variants. However, if case counts continue to exponentially increase and COVID-19 and its corresponding variants are left to run rampant across the globe, there is no guarantee that our current vaccines will be able to effectively recognize and accurately defend against future mutations. This worstcase scenario would render the tremendous efforts of scientists, researchers, health and government officials, and pharmaceutical giants futile. Another important concern in regard to vaccination efforts is the ever-growing anti-vaccination movement. Followers of this movement have found themselves enveloped in a black hole of misinformation and baseless lies which they use to actively fight against vaccination efforts across the country. In
December of 2020, a CDC survey found that just under 50% of adults in the U.S said that they would likely want to receive the vaccine. That figure is well under the required 70% to 85% that medical professionals believe will be able to achieve herd immunity and suppress the deadly virus. Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke about this movement in early February, specifically addressing the countless frontline health care workers who have refused to get vaccinated, saying, “They’re skeptical. They’re cynical about the vaccine, and they’re not willing to take it.” A significant effort is required on the part of both government and health officials to rebuild trust in our scientific community. This foundational trust and belief in the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine and those who created it are paramount to an effective pandemic response. Educationa campaigns focused on arming the public with research-based information on the benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination have been implemented with a sharp focus on reaching minority groups along with
Americans who still remain undecided. All in all, similar to America’s response to COVID-19 overall thus far, vaccination efforts have been slow in pace and minimal in reach. With the new administration redefining the nation’s pandemic plan and more vaccines like Johnson & Johnson receiving FDA approval, there is hope that a brighter, healthier future is within reach. As we move forward it is vital, now more than ever, that we recognize our own ability to positively contribute to efforts aimed to defeat this devastating virus. Simple acts like wearing a mask (or two), staying socially distant, being cognizant of the information we share on our social media platforms regarding COVID, and receiving the vaccine when we are able, all contribute to a global effort to suppress the virus. Science has not failed us. We have failed ourselves. Each day that we refuse to wear a mask, participate in large gatherings, or spread misinformation is another day that we lose to this pandemic.
What percentage of Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine?
percent of population, as of March 28th, 2021
L L I V S T T L L I I C T SST GI A O M the
verlooking the Miami skyline and the gorgeous blue is a collection of houses known as Stiltsville. These water houses aren’t just any oceanfront properties; they lie on Biscayne Bay’s sandbanks, creating a neighborhood on the water. From afar, it appears to be a mosaic of houses, with wooden legs elevating them not too far away from the water. Part of Biscayne National Park, this neighborhood has been full of life since the 1930s. While there are different variations of this history, “Crawfish” Eddie Walker is known for building the first Stiltsville home near the end of the prohibition era. Walker used this shack to sell food, drinks, and bait. Since the house was more than a mile offshore, it allowed people to congregate and legally gamble. Although it was destroyed 20 years later by a hurricane, in its place 26 houses quickly followed. Fishermen, dredgers, and club creators soon caught on to the fascination of building their own houses. In no time, clubs such as the Calvert Club, Quarterdeck Club, Miami Springs Powerboat Club, and
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o n a T ily m yE
Bikini Club opened with expensive membership prices. It seemed as though everyone wanted to go see the “shacks on stilts,” so much so that in the 1950s into the ‘60s, Stiltsville was considered one of the most popular places in Miami. Everyone from businessmen and lawyers to fishermen and tourists came to see these houses. Most stories about what went on during this time are vague and risqué: from raging parties to drugs and alcohol, these houses felt far enough away from real life to feel free with no inhibitions. Talk of these events grew so much that police raids became a constant for people visiting these houses. As the police raids increased and the partiers ventured to new locations, the state of Florida declined any permits for new constructions in the area and made house owners pay leasing fees. In 1980, Congress incorporated these structures into the Biscayne National Park. Just as things seemed to have settled down, Hurricane Andrew in August of 1992 witnessed the destruction of most of these houses, leaving only seven standing. During the years prior to and following Andrew, there was talk from Biscayne National Park about removing the houses, but homeowners and other Miami residents fought to keep the parts of Miami’s history standing. Superintendent Linda Canzanelli of Biscayne National Park saw the beauty and enjoyment that these houses bought
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d in the se o o h r o b h a eig Il
sig on & De i t a r t lus
n: Megan Buras
and formed a group with many of the homeowners to help save the houses. The Stiltsville Trust was founded in 2003 to bring together the remaining caregivers in an effort to preserve and maintain the houses that were still afloat with potential. The trust and the Biscayne National Park came to an agreement: houses would be rebuilt only if more than half the property remained undamaged. However, this agreement now comes as an unfortunate circumstance, since one of the remaining Stiltsville homes caught fire at the beginning of this year. Although firefighters responded quickly to the scene, the house was already drowning in flames. It is unknown if the house will be able to be rebuilt, but it is a stark reminder that these houses on stilts will not last forever. The uniqueness of these houses influenced the University of Miami to model Lakeside Village after Stiltsville. The building stands on top of twenty five foot concrete pillars which allows the ground level underneath to be filled with gardens resembling the grassy sea floor beneath Stiltsville, as well as provide a nice breeze. Lakeside Village is directly next to Lake Osceola, allowing the pillars to reflect over the water giving it a stilt house feeling. Lakeside Village is just one of many buildings that have taken inspiration from these special houses. Although the public is not allowed on the properties of the houses, both residents and visitors of Miami should visit the Biscayne Bay channel to see this treasure before it is too late. These houses are filled with so much history and character that it isn’t hard to imagine the beauty and uniqueness they possessed in their prime existence.
oday was the first day of 2nd grade. The teacher gave me an assigned seat right next to my best friend. I am so excited to sit next to her. I told her about my summer vacation, and she told me about hers. I am really happy she is sitting next to me, because my ex best friend is also in my homeroom class. I am nervous about that, but at least I have my best friend.” This journal entry, taken directly from the first journal my little hands wrote in, started my commitment to finding solace in journaling. My journal is my most confidential source where I can work through overwhelming emotions. Second grade may have consisted of a melange of seating charts, crushes, and playdates, but writing in my journal has helped me highlight my positive feelings and work through the negative ones. Now a sophomore in college, I may have graduated from my sparkly pink journal, but I continue to find the same timeless connection to journaling. With the pandemic bringing burdens of isolating and negative feelings, I find that writing in my journal has helped me navigate through difficult emotions. Not only does my second grade self strongly advocate to write in a journal, research on expressive writing used as a “behavioral activation technique” has shown promise in improving mental, and even the physical health of individuals. Dr. James W. Pennbaker, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas Austin, advocates for journaling through his research. In his study, “Writing about Emotional Experiences as a Therapeutic Process,” he describes participants “from honor students to maximum security prisoners,” who use the writing paradigm report that “writing about difficult experiences was a meaningful way to cope.” Dr. Pennebaker’s study, which included undergraduate students vulnerable to depression (those who have currently or previously expierenced depressive symptoms), found that participants who engaged in expressive writing showed “significantly lower depression symptoms at the 6-month assessment.” Journaling helps reframe emotional distress, giving the writer a sense of control when struck with overwhelming or negative feelings. Rikera Latrese Taylor, a fourth year medical student at the University of Miami Miller School Medicine used behavioral activation techniques to treat her patient, described in a recently published study, “Joy Journal: A Behavioral Activation Technique Used in the Treatment of Late Life Depression Associated with Hopelessness During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” In this case study, the patient was a 69-year old female professor whose mental health was severely harmed during the pandemic. During a 3 month period, the patient was burdened with “depressed mood, anhedonia, poor concentration, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and passive suicidal ideations.” The plight of virtual learning strained her work life, and the loss of her job exacerbated her symptoms. Along with a regimen of medication, she was prescribed a joy journal.
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by Sneha Akurati
The joy journal was a simple way to track and reflect on the hobbies and activities that brought the patient happiness. In the days that followed, feelings of hopelessness diminished and resilience persisted. The patient experienced improvements in appetite and memory. It was not long before the patient was discharged to return home. Taylor explains that joy journaling is effective because it allows the patient to focus on the positives rather than the negatives, serving as a simple yet powerful tool to help manifest a mindset that could challenge harmful thoughts and emotions. Taylor herself uses joy journaling to help manage the stress of being a fourth year medical student. Her journal, always by her side, includes notes of simple actions Taylor participated in that brought joy. Examples include “exercised today, talked to mom, or watched episodes of favorite TV show.” Engaging in the simple act of picking up your pencil to physically write in a journal encourages a daily commitment to optimism. When caught in a cycle of fatigue, hopelessness, or lack of motivation, it is easy to forget to do the actions that bring joy. Taylor shares that at the end of day, she takes time to expressively write about the feelings that were revealed when engaging in these joyous acts. This may even be simply rating, on a scale of 1-10, the degree of satisfaction each act gave her. It serves not only as an act of daily reflection, but also as a way to identify when these harmful emotions may occur again. Taylor explains that even though her patient was an older female, the benefits of journaling are generous to all, especially college students. Joy journaling can serve as a kind of planner by allocating a time and place for acts of joy sprinkled between classes and work. Taylor emphasizes that structure is key in a student’s schedule, especially those in seeking to reap the benefits of joy journaling. For some, the concept of expressive writing may seem foreign and even frightening. To be reflective takes courage and willpower. Taylor recommends trying a daily journal for at least 30 consecutive days. She encourages writing in the morning a list of three actions that bring joy. In the evening, it is best to reflect on the day’s actions. Journaling is a personal practice; different kinds of journaling may react uniquely to an individual. Other forms of journaling include gratitude writing, in which one notes a daily account of aspects to be grateful for. The more traditional form of journaling, expressive writing, asks the writer to unpack an overwhelming time and to become emotionally free in their journal. With a simple pen and paper, solace flows through the words of a journal. In a generation in which technology and social media demand our attention, practicing solitude has become rare and difficult. Journaling is a solitude hack—a way to bring attention to our own thoughts and feelings. Whether it is writing about 2nd grade crushes to the burdens of a global pandemic, journaling is a therapy that reaps benefits for all who wield the pen.
MOMMY AND ME: Postpartum Care in the US by Marissa Maddalon Design: Annette Yates
regnancy can be a rewarding yet difficult experience for women. In the United States, there is an emphasis on prenatal care with many medical checkups and screening tests, education and counseling about handling pregnancy, discussions of healthy eating, physical activity, and what to expect during labor and delivery. However, this care almost completely ends during the postpartum period (the first six weeks following birth) with only one follow up visit at six weeks that many women do not attend. The health of mothers, infants, and children is an extremely important aspect of health and a major public health focus. The United States spends the most money on healthcare per person among developed countries. However, when ranking countries for maternal mortality, the U.S. ranks 55th, and if that comparison was limited to countries of similar wealth, the U.S. would rank last. In fact, although most have been preventable, maternal deaths have been increasing in the United States since 2000. When comparing maternal mortality ratios in countries of similar wealth, the U.S has a ratio of 17.4 deaths per 100,000 live births, which is more than double that of most other high income countries. A large number of these pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. occur after birth, with 52% occuring during the postpartum period. Thus, the postpartum period or “4th trimester” is an extremely important period for both long-term health and well-being of both the mother and child. New mothers can face many challenges during this period including fatigue, postpartum pain, breastfeeding difficulties, stress, postpartum depression, and postpartum bleeding among other challenges. There is a major deficit in postpartum care in the U.S. In a committee opinion in 2018, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) revised previous more relaxed recommendations about postpartum care, now stressing how the weeks following birth are an extremely critical period for both a mother and child. The ACOG now emphasizes how postpartum care should be an ongoing process consisting of multiple check-ins with care providers and ongoing care as needed, rather than a single visit at 6 weeks. These multiple comprehensive visits should include an assessment of physical, social, and psychological well-being as ongoing care. Although the ACOG’s updated recommendations on postpartum care emphasizes the importance of quality care in this regard, this issue is multifaceted and there are still many barriers and underlying causes behind the deficit in postpartum care in the U.S. There is a major deficit in pstpartum care in the U.S. In a committee opinion in 2018, the American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) revised previous more relaxed recommendations about postpartum care, now stressing how the weeks following birth are an extremely critical period for both a mother and child. The ACOG now emphasizes how postpartum care should be an ongoing process consisting of multiple check-ins with care providers and ongoing care as needed, rather than a single visit at 6 weeks. These multiple comprehensive visits should include an assessment of physical, social, and psychological well-being as ongoing care. Although the ACOG’s updated recommendations on postpartum care emphasizes the importance of quality care in this regard, this issue is multifaceted and there are still many barriers and underlying causes behind the deficit in postpartum care in the U.S. One possible cause of this lack of postpartum care is a difference in care models. In the U.S., obstetrician-gynecologists (OB-GYNs) outnumber midwives; however, in other countries, midwives provide most prenatal care services and deliveries. This model of midwives outnumbering OB-GYNs is seen especially in the U.K. and in the Netherlands, two countries with highly ranked maternal care and strong primary care systems. Another component in the difference of care models is the difference in access and coverage of home visits after delivery during the postpartum period. These home visits are usually conducted in other countries by a midwife or nurse, giving these providers an opportunity to address any health concern a new mother may be facing. In the United States, access to home visits varies and is not guaranteed to new mothers. In other countries like the Netherlands and Norway, home visits from nurses or midwives during at least part
of the postpartum period are guaranteed and covered by insurance. Another deficit in postpartum care in the United States is the lack of guaranteed paid maternal leave. The U.S. is the only high-income country that does not require businesses and corporations to offer paid maternity leave to their employees. The absence of paid maternity leave could be trying on mothers due to added stresses of the finance on top of the unique challenges of motherhood. The burden of the deficit in postnatal care falls especially on those of lower socioeconomic status who oftentimes lack the transportation or insurance to access and pay for postpartum check-ups and other services. This disparity has in part led to worse outcomes like an increase in infant and maternal mortality rates following birth, and emotional distress in the form of postpartum depression, in part due to a lack of social support. Additionally, minority groups are more disproportionately affected and suffer from higher rates of maternal and infant mortality. African American women die from preventable pregnancy-related complications three to four times more than nonHispanic white women. Postpartum care in the U.S, or the lack thereof, has direct consequences on maternal and infant physical and mental health during a pivotal phase of their lives. Improving the quality of postpartum care through changes in health policy and medical recommendations has the potential to directly improve the overall health of mothers and newborns, as well as long term effects for community and population health.
“The U.S has a ratio of 17.4 deaths per 100,000 live births, which is more than double that of most other high income countries”
Antibodies or The Antichrist? Religion’s ROLE IN THE COVID-19 PandemiC by Bhavana Srikakolapu Design: Carolina Hernandez
ver the last decade, the United States has noticed an ideological shift to the secular. This phenomenon, aptly named the “Age of the Nones,” references the rising group of Americans who consider themselves neither religious nor non-religious. However, a recent Pew Study analyzing the relationship between COVID-19 and religion has found that close to 30% of Americans believe they have become more religious as a result of the pandemic. I suspect that much of this new wave of religious appeal is rooted in the fact that, while science can explain what a pandemic is and how it works, only religion can provide comfort to some, helping them understand on a larger level why it happened and why it’s happening to us. It is no secret that in times of unknown dangers, many look to their religion for answers. However, this search for answers became dangerous as religious gatherings resulted in calamitous superspreader events. Resistance from religious leadership, combined with regional policy failures, has led to major blunders across the world. In an effort to understand the relationship between religion and science, it is important to consider how religion is affecting the course of this pandemic. On March 11,
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2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Shortly after, the chief of the United Nations released a statement urging world religious leaders to work together in the fight against COVID, “I want to make a special appeal to religious leaders of all faiths to join forces to work for peace around the world and focus on our common battle to defeat COVID-19.” Religious leaders and communities hold an integral role worldwide, as they are thought to reflect or relay the voice of God. Organizations, like the UN, knew that targeting religious organizations to spread the message of “stay apart, to stay together” would be most effective. While many religious organizations did follow suit by moving services and rituals to online platforms, there was still hesitancy within religious communities around the world. In their article, “Religion and the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Wesley et. al. mention three specific superspreader events. The first of these was in Daegu, South Korea where an individual, identified as “Patient 31,” became the main source of COVID-19 infection at Shincheonji Church. Nearly 2/3 of all infected individuals in South Korea could be traced back to Patient 31, who had attended church following the church leadership’s insistence on “in-person meetings, banning health masks, [and] praying while touching others.” The church’s religious leader, Mr. Lee ManHee, “explained the epidemic as the “Evil One”
fighting back against the rapid growth of the church he founded.” Similar events happened in Trinidad, where pastors continued to hold in-person services, citing that “failure to attend worship in-person [was] evidence of lack of faith.” In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Pastor Tony Spell of the local Pentecostal Church did not find the need to stop in-person services because COVID-19 was “politically motivated.” Most notorious of the religious superspreader events is the Tablighi Jamaat’s (a sect of Islamic faith) annual conference. The fallout from this event was tragic, as lack of information about COVID and the large number of individuals who attended the conference led to 4,000 infected individuals. As we now begin to head into the stage of mass vaccinations, understanding the role of religion is more integral than ever as policymakers and community leaders begin to parse the roles that religions, and their leaders, play in the public’s reaction to vaccines. Many already believe the vaccine rollout was “too quick,” leading to much hesitancy to receive doses. There are added concerns for those practicing religions where vaccines are considered problematic. Vanderbilt University’s Medical Center lists that all of the major religions, Christianity (most denominations), Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Scientology, do not have theological objections to vaccines. Religions like Hinduism, Judaism, and Jainism, which hold certain aspects of animal life to be religious, generally still believe that the well-being of the human is more important or that the small traces of bovine elements are negligible. That being said, however, there is still a lot of backlash against vaccines by religious groups. In an article from ScienceMag, writer Meredith Wadman outlines how “senior Catholic leaders in the US and Canada… are raising ethical objections to promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates that are manufactured using cells derived from human fetuses electively aborted decades ago.” Though the Vatican has approved the use of these vaccines in “the absence of alternatives,” backlash remains present enough that it poses a risk to the goal of achieving herd immunity. The Washington Post cites that “White evangelicals, along with Black Americans of
different faiths, are some of the groups with the highest levels of vaccine skepticism in the United States.” Some of the religious backlash stems from a belief that the COVID-19 vaccine will usher in the biblical End Time, with the COVID-19 vaccine, and even masks heralding in the “Mark of the Beast.” Large amounts of misinformation amongst the right-winged Evangelical community has essentially fractured them, as certain groups believe in the conspiracy theories based on the “Plandemic.” German magazine, DW, mentions that this “is a culmination of decades of growing distrust in science, [and] modern medicine,” citing how the fear among right-wing Evangelicals rests in how “global leaders are making decisions without biblical input wand against the will of the Christian God.” This, compounded by social media conspiracy theories like Bill Gates planting chips in vaccines, as well as vaccines being held as a largely partisan issue, are further fracturing the Evangelical community. As policymakers and regional leaders make bigger decisions regarding vaccine rollout, they will also need to consider how to address misinformation and wrong assumptions in certain communities. Polarizing news channels and a lack of cohesiveness amongst government parties have led to a lot of confusion in the public as to what needs to be done. Former President Trump often downplaying the effects of the pandemic has also created strong stigmas within the Evangelical community, a community that strongly supports President Trump. I have strong hope that our government will begin to clear the misinformation, set attainable goals to curb the pandemic’s effects, and create safe, non-judgmental spaces for individuals to understand what is happening. Just as religious institutions have learned from their mistakes by switching services to online platforms and encouraging COVID protocols, it is time that practitioners also look within to see what the right thing to do is. Regardless of whether you are one of the many “Nones” or a highly religious individual in your community, compassion and empathy are needed from everyone during these times.
Public Health V. Mosquito How Genetic Modification Could be the Tiebreaker by Isabella Lopez Illustration & Design: Megan Buras
f you were infected by a vector-borne disease, chances are it was probably from a mosquito. According to the World Mosquito Program, about 700 million cases of mosquito-borne illnesses are reported each year and nearly 1 million deaths result from these illnesses. The most common are ones you’ve probably heard of: malaria, dengue, Zika, yellow fever, West Nile Virus, and chikungunya. Deadly and overwhelming to healthcare systems, such diseases have forced researchers to work hard to make key discoveries on the intricacies of vector mosquito genomes to formulate new drug therapies or vaccines. In January, scientists from the University of New Mexico, Johns Hopkins University, and Flinders University in Australia created a malaria vaccine based on virus-like particle (VLP) technology that showed promising results for generating antibodies to a malarial infection. Even a few weeks ago, another study was published that discovered 3,000 new genes for the genome of Anopheles stephensi, a major malaria vector mosquito species found in South Asia
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and the horn of Africa. This included 29 previously undetected genes involved in insecticide resistance. Furthermore, the significant role of genetically modified mosquito releases in promoting public health measures and alleviating the burden of mosquito-borne illnesses on healthcare systems needs to be further stressed. Within several Florida and Texas counties, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the widespread utilization of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes for release. These are used to control the populations of other Aedes ae. mosquitoes within a particular area. How exactly does this occur? Genetically modified (GM) male mosquitoes are mass-produced in a laboratory carrying two specific genes. One gene encodes a fluorescent marker that glows under red light, acting as a distinguishing piece between GM and wild mosquitoes. The second is a self-limiting gene that prevents female offspring from surviving to adulthood. The male eggs are then released and once they hatch, develop to an adult stage so that they are able to mate with wild females. The female offspring of these matings will then die off early in life. Within this process, the proportion of female mosquitoes, those biting humans and transmitting disease, would go down drastically and with it, hopefully, disease transmission. That is the main goal of this effort: to prevent further transmission of lethal mosquito vector diseases. Since 2019, over 1 billion GM mosquitoes have been released. They’ve been used successfully throughout Brazil, Panama, India, and the Cayman Islands for effective control. Their widespread use has not posed any risk to people, animals, or the environment. Another important program enforced by local authorities in Oregon’s counties is chicken sentinel surveillance for West Nile Virus, St. Louis encephalitis virus, and other mosquito-borne viruses. These are mainly carried out by placing chickens in a specific area for an extended period of time and testing their blood for antibodies. Chickens are bled once every two weeks during the months of May
through October. Blood samples are then processed and tested in Oregon Health Department’s Public Health Lab and the results obtained from laboratory tests are used to increase inspections and control measures in areas where viral activity is present. Addressing these illnesses at the source and tracking their viral activity is the future of scientific partnerships with public health efforts to tackle mosquito-borne diseases.
CA YMAN ISLANDS
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Here comes 46 Biden’s Projected Impact on Science and Medicine
by Snigdha Reddy Sama Illustration & Design: Carolina Hernandez
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fter a harrowing presidential election with candidates so divisive in their ideologies that we reached new tiers of political polarization, the country waited with bated breath and tense shoulders to see whose policies reigned supreme and won the vote of the American people. In a coin toss, it is impossible for everyone to be happy, and in an election so akin to one, that hasn’t changed. With only 51 percent of the popular vote, former Vice President Joseph Biden and former Senator Kamala Harris were sworn into office on January 20th, 2021 as President and Vice President, respectively. Here is what the Biden-Harris ticket’s victory means for some important realms of public policy. COVID-19 As of March 2nd, the deaths from COVID-19 worldwide have reached a heartbreaking milestone of over 2.5 million. Unfortunately, variants are popping up all over the world, some of which are more contagious or have resistance to the current vaccines. President Biden has long been critical of the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19, which included granting most of the responsibility of instituting and upholding stay-at-home orders to the states and opting for a more decentralized federal government. A wide criticism of Trump’s leadership was his minimal use of the Defense Production Act (DFA). He cited that using it to ramp up production of critical items like personal protective equipment (PPE) or vaccines would be left-wing overreach and paranoia. The DFA gives the executive office the authority to force US companies to accept contracts for the production of materials and services that promote the national defense, which includes situations ranging from emergency preparedness (in cases like a pandemic) to recovery from acts of terrorism. In the seven-point plan Biden laid out to combat COVID-19, he established that he is going to use the DFA to its fullest extent and ramp up vaccine and PPE production. In addition, President Biden plans to institute nation-wide mask mandates, relaunch our pathogen-tracking program (which Trump cut), establish a COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force and pass emergency packages to schools and businesses to adapt to COVID-19. Even within his first few days of office, President Biden has taken large steps in accomplishing many of these goals. He has already instituted more than a dozen executive orders, the most significant ones imposed a mask mandate on federal property, ramped up vaccination supplies, and required international travelers to obtain a negative COVID-19 test. Most recently, he reinstated travel restrictions (that President Trump lifted in his last few days of office) on non-US citizens who have been in Brazil, Ireland, much of Europe, and South Africa, where new variants have been cropping up like wildfires.
Environmental Policy President Biden’s and former President Trump’s environmental policies could not divulge further in their aims. President Biden’s priorities are to invest in alternative energy sources so that we can eventually rid our country of carbon emissions. Contrastingly, Trump sought to boost US production of oil and natural gas, which combined comprise over 75% of US energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. President Biden also specifically addresses environmental justice; in recognition that lower-income and minority communities are more affected by climate change and pollution, he pledged to allocate 40% of his clean energy plan’s investment toward these communities. His principal goal is to rid the power sector of carbon pollution by 2035 and eventually reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. President Biden appears to be making good on his promises to put climate change on the top of his list of priorities - he recently issued an executive order to rejoin the Paris climate accords. These accords were drafted in 2015 to strengthen the global response to climate change, which former President Trump explosively pulled the US from. As more time passes, we will see what other changes he will implement to bring his promises to reality. However, some are concerned that President Biden is misrepresenting the ease of switching to alternative energy sources. He emphasizes that the move toward alternative energy sources is one that will not only create jobs, but also boost the economy and save the climate. It’s hard to argue against such a depiction, but so far, he hasn’t yet addressed some of the most pressing claims against this shift, which will have to include a massive overhaul of infrastructure during which it will be a long time before we start to profit. In addition, President Biden appears to take conflicting positions on some pressing climate issues, most notably fracking. While staunchly opposing this practice of resource extraction in a 2019 debate, he quickly switched his position when pressed during the presidential debate, stating that he had never opposed fracking. Promising everyone everything will eventually lead to someone being disappointed, and unfortunately for the American public, it seems impossible for President Biden to live up to all of his environmental policy promises. Public Health Most significantly and unsurprisingly, President Biden hopes to expand the impact of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), a comprehensive health care reform that he and former President Barack Obama passed in joint effort with Congress in 2010. Despite President Trump’s best efforts, he was unable to obliterate it completely, and President Biden appears determined to restore the bill to its previous prominence.
The ACA aims to provide affordable health insurance coverage for all Americans, regardless of one’s preexisting health conditions. It also led to lower prescription drug prices and more covered preventative screening and services. About 81% of Republicans were cited as being against Obamacare in a nation-wide poll; they object to the fact that it proposed more government oversight and raised insurance premiums for a lot of Americans who were able to afford insurance before Obamacare. Trump, desperate to end the act, cut the open enrollment period from twelve to six weeks. Conversely, President Biden is set to sign executive orders that not only extend, but also expand the ACA. Even further, he plans to implement federal policies to reduce racial disparities in healthcare, especially in maternal health. President Biden has also made some campaign promises regarding several other critical areas of public health policy. One is regarding the practice of abortion. Biden has advocated ending the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds for abortion, and promised to defend the legal right to abortion by establishing protections that would stand even if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.
While President Biden’s stance on abortion has changed over the years, he now appears to be a staunch supporter of the right to choose, saying “Reproductive rights are a constitutional right. And, in fact, every woman should have that right”. Unlike most of his opponents in the Democratic nomination, Biden opposes repealing the federal ban on marijuana. At a town hall event in Las Vegas, Nevada in November of 2019, Biden stated that he needs further evidence that marijuana is not a “gateway drug” before he would consider its federal legalization. Instead, he says that the drug should be decriminalized but that individual states should be the ones to decide whether to legalize it for recreational use. Beyond the marijuana debate, advocates for drug law reform hope that Biden’s administration will be sympathetic and compassionate when it comes to the issue of addiction. In his campaign, Biden has promised to support local initiatives such as needle exchanges, spend an additional $125 billion over 10 years to increase access to treatment and recovery services, and reform the justice system so that no one is incarcerated for drug use alone.
Anyone can lie to get their hand in the cookie jar, and promises ran rampant on both sides of the election. Only one week in, it is much too soon to decide whether President Biden will live up to his promises. But if the 22 executive orders he has already issued are anything to go by, President Biden is not afraid to take action for what he stands for. Congratulations and welcome to office, Mr. President.
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Brainiac: UM Neonatologist Tackles Neonatal Brain Injury by Rahul Kumar design: Megan Piller
r. Augusto Schmidt, M.D., Ph.D., is a neonatologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. When he is not taking care of newborns in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), Dr. Schmidt conducts research in the Neonatal Developmental Biology Lab at the Batchelor Children’s Research Institute. He is known for being awarded the Micah Batchelor Scholars’ Award for Excellence in Children’s Health Research, being recognized by the Society for Pediatric Research for his work on animal models of congenital disease, and most recently, by serving on a project on behalf of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Today, Dr. Schmidt works towards his mission to improve care for premature infants. Currently, his lab is funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), Project: NewBorn, and The Batchelor Foundation. His current focus: studying the impact of chorioamnionitis on cerebellar development. Dr. Schmidt explains, “Chorioamnionitis is when the fetal membranes and the amniotic cavity become inflamed. It can happen at any time throughout the pregnancy and lead to preterm birth.” The condition is a common cause of preterm births and is present in 2 to 4% of full-term deliveries. Pregnant women are put at an even greater risk of developing chorioamnionitis if the fetal membrane ruptures early on. “There are studies that show 85% of babies born before 30 weeks are exposed to chorioamnionitis, and have clear signs of inflammation,” Schmidt continued. “When infants are exposed to this inflammation, they have increased risk of neurodevelopmental and behavioral problems.”
However, it is currently unknown how common cerebellar defects in chorioamnionitis are. In this sense, Dr. Schmidt’s research project is novel for the field and he hopes to uncover further data that points to the effects of chorioamnionitis on the cerebellum. Dr. Josef Newman is a pediatrician and research fellow working under Dr. Schmidt on the project. He says that the condition can have large impacts on the fetus, “The amnion helps protect the fetus, so when the infection happens inside the amniotic sac, it severely impacts the fetus.” Together, the amnion and chorion form the amniotic sac, a structure that protects the fetus from outside damage. An infection in this area would, therefore, cause serious complications in the newborn child. “We don’t know exactly how this inflammation is impacting fetal development specifically in terms of the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved,” Schmidt said. In the lab, the team is working to solve that very problem. Currently, they are using animal models to analyze brain development. “Through an animal model we simulate intrauterine inflammation, the type of inflammation that chorioamnionitis causes,” Newman added. “We can then examine the inflammation’s effects on brain development.” Often called “the little brain,” the cerebellum has been classically understood as the region of the brain responsible for motor balance and coordination, but now we know it is involved in multiple high-order functions including behavior and cognition. Dr. Schmidt says that cerebellum brain development and impairment studies have been neglected in the past, but he hopes to pursue them through this research project. “We’re now focusing our attention to the cerebellum and coming to recognize that it’s an important player involved with inflammation,” Schmidt states. “We are currently doing single-nuclei RNA sequencing samples from
preterm rhesus macaques and analyzing how the inflammation affects the development of the Cerebellum’s neurons at the single-cell level.” Newman says that the project is still in its early stages, but the lab hopes to make a game-changing discovery through its work. “The long-term goal is to find the mechanism that links the type of inflammation we see with abnormal brain development,” Newman said. “Then we can start looking for targeted therapies,” he added. Newman and his colleagues are out to find this special link: the role of cerebellum inflammation and abnormal brain development beyond what is currently known about chorioamnionitis. If the lab does find this link, then it would kickstart the search for therapies. These therapies would be life-changing, with the ability to circumvent the outcome of abnormal brain development. The brains behind this role, Newman and his colleagues stand at the forefront of what new discoveries the scientific community will understand about chorioamnionitis.
Dr. Schmidt a neonatologist at the UM Miller Scool of Medicine
Dr. Schmidt receiving the 2019 Micah Batchelor Scholar Award
UM’s Role in Vaccine Development
‘Canes for a Vaccine
OVID-19 and the challenges that come with it have brought us to a revolutionary point in science. The vaccine production timeline has been reduced to a tenth of what it normally is due to Operation Warp Speed, a partnership between the government and private companies to fuel COVID-19 related discoveries. The pandemic has also unleashed the power of RNA vaccines as a novel platform, as there were no officially licensed RNA vaccines available previously. Thus, those created by Moderna and Pfizer are the first of their kind. Just as the University of Miami rose to the occasion when fighting the HIV pandemic in the late 80s and 90s, again has our institution played a strong role in elucidating potential treatment strategies for SARS-CoV-2— including the testing of candidate vaccines. Of note is UM’s involvement with Moderna and Janssen. As emergency use authorizations (EUA) are granted by the FDA, notable concerns have been arising in research literature regarding the retention of patients in trials and the impact that will have on data. This authorization leads to patients wanting to be unblinded, having the details of their treatment disclosed to them so that they can receive the vaccine if they are eligible. Many experts believe that a balance should be found between the rights of patients and the longterm benefits to society of robust data. The first vaccine candidate study that was adopted by UM was that of Moderna. The vaccine contains mRNA encoding the spike protein present on the viral membrane and is administered through two intramuscular doses at 0 and 28 days. It follows the “gold standard” of vaccine studies in that it is randomized, double-blinded (where treatment details are withheld from both coordinators and participants), and placebo-controlled. I had the honor of speaking with one of the coinvestigators of the Moderna study, Dr. Maria Alcaide, to obtain more insight.
by Sofia Cartaya Design: Naynika Juvvadi
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When asked about potential concerns regarding the study being granted EUA, she shared that what is “most important is making the vaccine available to the greatest number of people.” The data is already strong, and participants will continue to be followed throughout their trial period no matter what. The reason EUA was originally granted was because of “significant differences between the two groups, as much higher infection rates were seen with the placebo patients.” Next, we discussed the concern of participants who wish to be unblinded, wherein she told me “this is how clinical trials work— as soon as you detect a difference between groups, it would be unethical to continue patients in placebo.” Priority administration is being offered to participants in the study, no matter their age group Dr. Alcaide stressed to me how UM has always set the standard for enrolling underrepresented minorities. This is significant because these populations experience more infections, greater severity, and larger numbers of deaths. She emphasized how important it is to participate in vaccine trials, and how grateful she is to all those who have contributed to making the study a success. The second vaccine candidate to be adopted was that of Janssen Pharmaceuticals, under Johnson & Johnson. This study also followed the “gold standard” of trials. This vaccine is composed of a modified viral vector that delivers DNA encoding the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and only requires one dose, injected intramuscularly. The Schiff Center for Liver Diseases was one of the two sites on campus where this study was conducted. I was privileged to have an inside scoop as a Research Assistant in this clinical research center. Among taking on many other COVID studies, Dr. Schiff and his colleagues are studying the liver injuries that have been associated with the virus. He conveyed to me that this emphasizes the importance of testing people who develop COVID for signs of hepatitis and serves as a testament to the vast range of doors for research that this pandemic has opened. Dr. Dushyantha Jayaweera, the Principal Investigator of this study, shared how he frames retention of study participants. “In any study that is long term, retention is always a problem,” he said. Investigators can combat this by “keeping participants engaged and frequently contacting them, but no matter what, you will always inevitably lose some.” I also asked him if he thought it was practical for more vaccine candidates to
be granted EUA in the future, to which he strongly agreed. He told me, “you need multiple to prevent rapid spread and mortality,” and no single company on its own is capable of producing that quantity. Although participants will be discouraged from unblinding, what they try to do in these cases is keep at least one side of blinding by not informing the coordinators of the report. They are unblinded only for compelling reasons, the most common and significant being the availability of another vaccine. Like with Moderna, patients in the study will receive priority administration following FDA authorization. He closed our discussion with a straight-forward message to the general public— “vaccines save lives.” People should not listen to conspiracy theorists, but rather promote vaccination “while still wearing masks, as the specifics of virus transmission and infection continue to be elucidated.”
Our long-standing commitment and dedication to research make us proud to be part of the ‘Canes family. A Janssen study coordinator, Barbara Mera, shared with me that “our principal investigators and study staff have been working diligently day and night to move things as quickly along as we can.” They know that all of their hard work has paid off “when you see people in our community receiving their vaccines and by knowing that this vaccine will protect them and their loved ones. The feeling is priceless.” She concluded our interview with an inspiring statement. “We should all be optimistic about the future as there is light at the end of the tunnel. Things will get better, and we just have to trust the process.”
Janssen Vaccine Team of the Schiff Center at Miller School of Medicine
The Hunt for The Science Behind Trusting Your Gut by Ellie Martin
Illustration & Design: Anam Ahmed
ou’re walking home when, out of nowhere, your stomach drops. A tingle crawls up your spine. Your senses seem to sharpen as you take in your surroundings. A little voice appears out of nowhere and whispers to you get home ASAP. Without thinking, your casual stroll accelerates into something short of a sprint. Many of us have experienced that proverbial “sixth sense”: I should cancel my flight, their chemistry feels off, I’m resonating with the lower-paying offer, I have a good feeling about this pitch. Public leaders from Oprah Winfrey to Albert Einstein accredit their success to following their gut. Einstein is famously quoted for describing the intuitive mind as a “sacred gift” and the rational mind as a “faithful servant.” In the words of Einstein, “we have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Indeed, it can feel unnecessary and even foolish to trust something so elusive in the age of information and logic. There is still debate over whether intuition even exists, and it is unclear exactly how it differs from things like instinct or magical thinking. Still, research suggests that Einstein was onto something. Intuition—that gut feeling, that sixth sense, that hard-to-place hunch—is currently understood to be a product of the unconscious mind as it rapidly sifts through past experiences and cumulative knowledge. The process uses pattern-matching as the brain scans for situations like the present stored in long-term memory, producing split-second judgements. This automatic information processing stems from older parts of our brains wired for human survival by recognizing danger. Specifically, intuition is associated with the hippocampus (located on the right side of the brain) and the gut (yes, neurons are present in the digestive system- about 100 million of them!). Neurotransmitters fire “somatic signals” to these areas upon pattern
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detection, resulting in that often inexplicable feeling that everything is great--or that something feels off. Interestingly, the female brain on average has a thicker corpus callosum (the connective matter that bridges the right and left hemispheres). This enables women to quickly integrate right-brained processes like emotions or gut feelings with leftbrained logic when forming decisions. In other words, the terms “gut feeling” and “women’s intuition” are scientifically backed! Intuition has been correlated with higher satisfaction when making important life decisions, such as deciding who to marry or which house to buy. A study by the University of Amsterdam found that car buyers who were given ample time to review information about their options were satisfied only about 25% of the time. On the other hand, buyers who were forced to make quick, intuitive decisions about which car to purchase—after completing an unrelated task—had a satisfaction rate of about 60%. Another study by the University of Iowa involved a card game in which money could either be gained or lost based on the card drawn. One deck was rigged for high-value scores, the other stacked with losing cards. As the subjects played, physical stress responses such as sweaty palms appeared in response to the bad deck within playing just ten cards. Players didn’t begin to suspect rigged decks until around 50 cards in, however, and were unable to explain how the decks were stacked until closer to 80. In other words, their bodies were sending subconscious warning signals long before the players could logically explain what was wrong. The University of New South Wales performed an experiment in which college students were shown screens with many moving dots and were asked to report the general direction the dots were moving in. At the same time, some subjects were presented with emotion-provoking photographs hidden by a technique called “continuous flash suppression” in order to be unconsciously detected. The photographs included positive images
(such as puppies) and negative images (such as a snake about to strike). The type of emotion elicited was correlated with the direction in which the dots were moving. Ultimately, participants exposed to the hidden images were faster, more accurate, and more confident in their decisions. Another noteworthy finding was that intuition actually improved over time, suggesting the skill can be developed. Intuition can be a powerful tool--when used in the right context. Studies by the University of Texas and Harvard University suggest that intuition can be fairly accurate in detecting deception and forming first impressions (such as how effective a teacher will be). It is important to differentiate intuition from bias, however, so that intuition does not become a tool for justifying prejudice and discrimination. According to John Sachs, author of Unsafe Thinking: How To Be Nimble and Bold When You Need It the Most, one way to do this is to expose ourselves to a broad range of people and environments. This expands our long-term memory database so that unconscious pattern-matching becomes more constructive and less subject to confirmation bias. The ability to pick up on the thoughts, feelings or intentions of others (“empathic accuracy”) is a subset of intuition and can be improved by spending more time with others. Additionally, certain environments provide better foundations for intuition because they are fairly consistent (“high validity”) or because we have more experience in them. Gathering feedback is another great way to tune the ability to know whether to trust your gut. For example, by journaling you can correlate the outcomes of intuitive choices. Meditation can also improve intuition, as indicated by a 2005 study that found enhanced grey matter in brain
regions associated with sensitivity to the body’s signals and sensory processing in practiced meditators. Other ways to hone intuition include reserving time alone to reflect or completing “body scans” throughout the day to check in with the gut. Is there a strange churning sensation in your stomach right now? What may have caused it? A simple exercise to check in with subconscious signals is to write down questions with simple yes/no answers (“Should I quit my job? Should I stay in this relationship?”), perform an unrelated task, and then come back to the questions and circle yes or no without giving yourself time to hesitate or reason. It is also worth pointing out that intuitive choices are better made when subjects are in a positive mood. Ultimately, we need more research to fully understand the mechanisms of intuition and to optimize our ability to use it—or to know when to discard it. Despite a history of dismissal by corporations and the scientific community alike, intuition appears to be making a comeback. As a testament to this, the U.S. Office of Naval Research recently invested $3.85 million in designing virtual simulations to train and develop soldiers’ intuitions under high-pressure scenarios. Others are attempting to design intuitive computers. In a technological breakthrough following decades of head-scratching, a Google computer finally beat the world champion at ‘Go’, an ancient Chinese game that largely relies on intuition and ‘feel’, in 2016. To echo Einstein, intuition can be thought of as an evolutionary gift: a time-efficient asset to garnish logical decision-making that can enhance creativity, provide insights into the veiled subconscious, and even improve quality of life. We might as well open that gift.
FLAVIVIRUSES: the Next Pandemic? by Tarek Ghaddar Illustration & Design: Megan Buras
ut for a jog. It’s nice and temperate. Palm trees wave at you, as you walk beneath. The sun is setting and all its shades of red, orange, and yellow line grey clouds and blue sky. A few minutes in, you feel an itch on your leg. A mosquito has bitten you. You didn’t spray yourself with repellent before leaving. Now you might carry a lethal disease. The adventurers of the 16th to 19th centuries, seeking to exploit the wealth of Africa and the Americas, faced deadly squalls, angry natives, and starvation. Many met their demise for social mobility. They dreamed of riches and of securing the future of their families. The post-hoc label of their crimes did not keep them up at night. Disease, however, did. One killer crept from patch of skin to patch of skin. Watching, waiting, for the most opportune moment to satisfy its need for blood. The mosquito. Mosquitoes are hosts to deadly viral diseases. Malaria, alongside the bacterial infection smallpox, was the scourge of the 19th and early 20th century. This was the age of sea travel. Mosquitoes traveled among the sailors. They lurked in the corners of the ship and colonized the New World too. Mosquitoes are where people are and dengue moves where people move. Dengue is one of the most common flaviviruses transmitted by Aedes aegypti. This fact was echoed by both the experts I interviewed: Dr. Andre Wilke and Dr. John Beier, vector specialists at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “These diseases are not being transmitted in the jungle,” said Dr. Wilke. “It’s happening in urban cities, by Ae. aegypti. We are clustering, and we are more geographically dense. Construction sites, sewage systems, and backyard pots are just a few examples of how Ae. aegypti will leverage humanmade features.” In Miami, decorative plants, bromeliads,
were found to be a main mosquito breeding site. This choice of breeding site is unique to Miami, exemplifying the wily nature of mosquitoes. Ae. aegypti dominates the anthropomorphic wild. Between the trunks of buildings, within the streams of sewer muck, they roam, breed, and feast. Cities are clustering. There is a demographic shift towards increased urbanization, and increased population density in these urban sites. A mosquito bites one infected individual. It becomes a vector of viral disease like dengue or chikungunya and transmits it to another individual. Globalization has connected urban centers. There are serious vector control implications to this. A couple vacations in the Bahamas. They get bitten by a mosquito, and they contract dengue. They return to Miami, bitten by Ae. aegypti, the main mosquito species dominating the Miami vector landscape. This mosquito now has the dengue virus. Dengue hemorrhagic fever is a lethal condition, and not many physicians are trained to recognize it. There are surveillance systems in place to report dengue, but a surveillance system is only as effective as those who report to it. In an age of unaffordable health care, who is willing to spend nearly a thousand dollars on a fever? If patients aren’t treated for their dengue, it goes unseen, undetected, and uncounted. How can there be severe outbreaks in Cuba, but only a few cases reported in the United States? Some might say, “Because we are a developed country. We don’t get those jungle diseases.” Humidity soaks Miami’s warm air year-round. The city is a geographic nexus of commerce, tourism, and immigration. Mosquito populations thrive. Visitors often come from South America or the Caribbean, where dengue and other viral vector-borne diseases are endemic. How likely is it that we are unscathed? Consider the following: West Nile Virus (WNV) was detected in Miami blood banks. The virus was traced to Miami’s homeless population. If they had not donated blood, we would not have been aware of circulation. The homeless are an underserved population and co-habit the anthropomorphic wild in which mosquitos thrive. The homeless infected with these vectors are at higher risk of severe disease and lack of access to care. In the anthropomorphic wild, they could spread the disease rapidly. For West Nile Virus, the transmission is unidirectional. Humans cannot transmit WNV back to mosquitos. But dengue? Zika? These diseases can be returned to the vector population from humans. They acquire the virus from a blood meal and find a new individual to infect. Vector mosquitoes are where people are and go where people go. “Is dengue shaping up to be a pandemic?” I asked Dr. Beier. “No,” he said. “Dengue is not a pandemic. It is endemic. It is established [and spreading]. It poses a public health crisis for the Americas. As temperatures get warmer, it’s going to get worse, and we have one precautionary tool. Mosquito control. Miami is the gateway city.” If Miami is overridden by arboviral disease, the rest of the country will follow. Dr. Wilke described the demographic shift of mosquito populations. “These warmer weathers, resulting from climate change, this increase in human-made urban environments, this all has increased the carrying capacity of the mosquito population.” The carrying capacity is the limit a population can sustain before collapsing. “Since the carrying capacity is increased, the mosquitoes can increase their numbers and have a higher probability of settling in a newly suitable area.” The people living in these newly settled areas face another obstacle: doctors are not trained to recognize neglected tropical diseases. “If someone with dengue goes to a doctor in Kenya, the doctor will immediately diagnose it. Here, it’s just not common
enough to show up in clinical training,” said Dr. Beier. My father caught malaria, a different mosquito-borne disease, in the early 80s, and then came to America. His severe symptoms showed when he was in Pennsylvania. He would have died if a Chinese doctor did not recognize the disease. How do we train the new generation of physicians, especially in Florida and Texas, to recognize this disease? Those most at risk for catching these illnesses don’t have access to care. In 2014, Florida and Texas opted to not expand Medicaid under the NFIB v. Sebelius ruling. These two states have been rendered high-risk environments for transmission due to their climates and geographic locations. They have the largest uninsured populations. We can’t make our surveillance system work when people can’t get treated. Governors in other Republican states like Ohio collaborated with Secretary Sebelius to increase coverage. Florida and Texas’s lack of Medicaid expansion will have its repercussions, as these states slowly develop the viral reservoir and push infected mosquitos into terrain made newly inhabitable by climate change. For now, however, our strongest tool is mosquito control and bite prevention. “Education efforts for mosquito control need to focus on the community,” said Dr. Beier. “Especially children. Part of the problem of COVID-19 is that it has overridden all other health messaging. When it comes to education and site sampling, some counties, in some states, do a great job. Others do not.” Amid a recession, political crisis, and pandemic, who is paying attention to the pot of water in their garden? Mosquitoes are. To reduce the risk of getting bitten, for yourself and your community, always drain and cover objects that could hold water. They serve as makeshift breeding grounds for our viral vector foes. “Mosquitoes can thrive in bromeliads, or in the residual water filling discarded car tires,” said Dr. Wilke. “Car tires!” History repeats, in all its irony. We come to cities looking to establish our careers, to make something of ourselves, like the explorers coming to the native lands hundreds of years ago. Mosquitoes follow us still, breeding and feeding in corners we cannot conceive.
URBANIZATION, GLOBALIZATION, and ARBOVIRAL REPLICATION 45
For the female:
t started in a microbiology lab in high school. Getting hands-on with microscopic organisms and learning all about the seemingly hidden world of bacteria, Marissa Maddalon recalls her earliest memories of her interest in science. She also took AP Biology, and despite the rigors of the course, she knew that biology was something she wanted to pursue. She decided to continue her scientific journey at the University of Miami. Initially a biology major, Marissa was set on learning more about the field. She joined a genetics lab, where she learned about how to conduct polymerase chain reactions (PCR), western blots, and gel electrophoresis. However, in the mix of analyzing genomic data, she realized that something was missing. She soon found this missing piece after taking a course in Public Health. Through the subject she found something beautiful: the merging of scientific knowledge with community-based health. Marissa understood that public health truly excited her. She knew that working long hours in the laboratory was not for her, so she switched her major — and her career path. Now in her senior year, finishing up her major in public health and minors in psychology, microbiology and immunology, and chemistry, Marissa has made a remarkable name for herself through her impressive work in numerous multidisciplinary research projects. Starting with the WHIMS (Women, HIV, Immunology, Microbiome
46 | Profiles
and Sexual Health) lab at the Miller School of Medicine under the direction of principal investigator Dr. Maria Alcaide, Marissa has had the opportunity to impact the lives of several women suffering from bacterial vaginosis (BV) in the Jackson area. BV is a condition caused by an overgrowth of certain bacteria in the vagina. It is one of the most common infections that affects women and is a leading risk in the contraction of HIV and STDs. Unfortunately, not much is known about the condition. With Dr. Alcaide and lead study coordinator Patricia Raccamarich, an obstetrician from Venezuela, Marissa was involved in reaching out to female patients infected with BV, analyzing samples in the lab, as well as discussing treatment plans and disease prevention strategies with them. Through this research, Marissa learned about the harsh realities that these women face, especially given the recent COVID-19 pandemic. She recalled seeing a disproportionate number of low-income minority women reporting to the lab, unequipped with the information and resources they needed to combat BV. With these racial and socioeconomic disparities in mind, Marissa’s eyes were opened to the broader implications of this research. One of the most important things that Marissa took away from working in this lab was the ability to hold difficult conversations about highly sensitive information with patients. Raccamarich inspired Marissa by her ability to level with patients and break down internalized barriers of women’s sexual health.
Marissa Maddalon and Women’s Health To this end, Marissa was also involved in field research that sought to disseminate sex positivity messages to the public. Dr. Andrew Porter, the lead investigator and host of “The Sex Wrap” podcast, which has an Instagram following of fourty thousand, made it a mission to “help fill the gaping hole in sexuality education.” As an intern in this field research, Marissa created posts on social media, analyzed engagement levels, and discussed important sexual topics to investigate in future projects. Marissa found this work to be very interesting and rewarding, as it offered a different side of research that involved reaching out to people using social media and providing answers to deeply personal questions that were never addressed in traditional sexual education. Besides advocating for women’s health and sexual positivity, Marissa was recently involved in a six-month study that looked at different aspects of HIV positive patients with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic. This study was led by Drs. Alcaide and Deborah Weiss from the Infectious Diseases Department at Miller. It involved the distribution of a series of questionnaires to patients from the CHARM (Center for HIV and Research in Mental Health) database. This research sought to gather more information about the mental and physical impacts that COVID-19 has had on HIV-positive patients. A sample question from one such questionnaire would ask whether COVID-19 has made it more difficult for the patient to access their antiretroviral therapeutic medications. Those who suffer from HIV are forced to follow a strict regimen of drugs to keep the viral load to a minimum. Marissa recalled a male participant that experienced tremendous difficulties accessing his medication due to a number of reasons. Fortunately, she was able to get in contact with Dr. Alcaide to provide the participant with the resources needed for his condition. For Marissa, it was eye-opening to see how COVID-19 has impacted those with preexisting conditions, and her involvement in this study provided more clarity as to the line of work she pursues: helping people seek the resources they need to live a fulfilling life. Marissa hopes to take these meaningful experiences with her to medical school, and then eventually to a clinic where she can work as an obstetrician. One major piece of advice that she can give to her fellow undergrads is to not be afraid to reach out to professors about doing research and to start early. By filling out the Undergraduate Research application, Marissa was paired with Dr. Alcaide’s lab, where she was able to find her passions in medicine. Lastly, Marissa encourages students to be true to themselves and do what is exciting, even if that means switching your major late in the game.
by Christian Rivera Photography: Dhara Patel Design: Meera Patel
“Do what is exciting, even if that means switching your major late in the game.”
A NEW PERMANENT EXHIBITION Groundbreaking research. Innovative discoveries. Revolutionary solutions. Explore the fascinating and fierce frontiers of science. frostscience.org/powerofscience Supported by
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Introducing Season 2 of Groundwork, a video series from Scientifica Magazine at the University of Miami! Groundwork aims to highlight the groundbreaking research being conducted by researchers on the University of Miami campuses, across disciplines ranging from the marine sciences and ecology to neuroscience and biochemistry. Each episode will focus on a specific researcher and their passion for their work.
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48 | Profiles
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Working in the Nano, Thinking in the Macro
Profile on Anuj Shah, former Editor-in-Chief by Anam Ahmed
Photography: Sneh Amin & Gabriella Guerriero
Design: Meera Patel 49
hile most of our readers recognize him as Scientifica’s editor-in-chief, Anuj Shah doubles as a contributor to science communication as a student scientist. Anuj was born in Kentucky but grew up in Arizona and started researching at nearby universities during high school. At UM, he joined Dr. Shanta Dhar’s lab in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology department at the Miller School of Medicine. Anuj has worked at this lab since freshman year, building trusting connections with fellow researchers that allow him to collaborate on significant projects. His typical day in the lab includes running experiments and writing manuscripts. Dr. Dhar’s lab centers around utilizing nanotechnology to treat diseases. Here Anuj has witnessed the powerful combination nanotechnology and drugs can have on medication efficacy and accuracy of tissue targeting. Anuj spoke of one of his lab’s major discoveries before he joined, which he later applied to his own work. The researchers developed a nanoparticle that could transport materials across the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The BBB is highly selective and serves to protect the brain from circulating pathogens, but when a virus, like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is able to cross the barrier, there are limited medications that can follow. Some HIV patients have viral reservoirs in their brain, which can lead to multiple associated neurological issues. Anuj and the lab have been developing a novel nanoparticle for HIV treatment. They found 3 possible antiretroviral drugs that can be loaded into the nanoparticle in therapeutically effective amounts. Additionally, they encapsulated anti-inflammatory agents, such as coenzyme Q10. The coenzyme protects biological membranes against oxidation and helps to treat the inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction caused by the infection. They found that when treated with nanomedicine, the tested neural cells (astrocytes and microglia) became healthier and actually served as protection against further inflammation. One project Anuj has worked on since its beginning focuses on Zika virus (ZIKV), a mosquito-borne disease known to cross the placental barrier and cause birth defects. In 2015/2016, there was a ZIKV outbreak in the Americas, with Miami-Dade county having the highest number of cases in Florida. There is currently no vaccine or specific medication for ZIKV, but a drug usually used as an anti-parasitic, ivermectin, was found to have antiviral properties against Zika virus. However, ivermectin cannot be used to effectively treat ZIKV because its hydrophobic, insoluble properties cause it to be quickly filtered from the bloodstream. Anuj and his lab developed a nanoparticle encapsulating ivermectin that would remain in the bloodstream at a proper concentration for ZIKV treatment. The nanoparticle is biodegradable and releases the ivermectin over time to kill the infected cells. The lab also sought to make the nanomedicine orally administrable through the addition of Fc immunoglobulin fragments. Since Fc receptors naturally exist on gut epithelial cells, the Fc-covered nanoparticles can be absorbed into the bloodstream from the gut. Anuj explained one of his focuses was on developing this oral form of the nanoparticle, removing the need for injection. In recent months, the lab has also modified this nanoparticle for COVID-19 treatment. Ivermectin has been found to lower the expression of the spike protein and ACE2, two main components of coronavirus virulence. When the drug was administered paired with the nanoparticle Anuj and his lab developed, there was improved efficacy and lowered toxicity compared to the free drug. This could serve as a potential treatment, as lowering the levels of the spike protein and
50 | Profiles
ACE2 in turn lower disease transmission. Anuj has been able to follow and take part in all stages of research, from planning out experiments to publishing and presenting findings at conferences. While one of the most rewarding aspects of research is watching how each aspect connects together at the end, Anuj says “the most important thing I’ve learned from working in the lab is to just be patient; research takes time and you got to approach it with the mentality that you’re going to be in it for the long haul. You have to be willing to put in the time and effort.” While speaking with Anuj, it was clear to me that his passion for science and advancing knowledge is exhibited by his dedication to research, sometimes spending upwards of 30 hours a week in the lab. Although Anuj’s advice and enthusiasm for his research are undoubtedly insightful for aspiring and fellow student researchers, I couldn’t leave out a “behind-the-scenes” look at Scientifica’s outgoing editor-in-chief. Anuj recalls seeing Scientifica on the rack during orientation and deciding to join as a writer. The way science is written in academia often alienates those not in the field, creating a gap in knowledge of important findings. Anuj was drawn to Scientifica’s mission of making science accessible through a medium that serves as a creative outlet. As he contributed more articles to the magazine, he found working with editors helpful for improving his skills and confidence in writing. Two of his favorite pieces he has written are “The Sixth Mass Extinction” in Issue 12 and “Memorable Movies: When Storytelling Meets Science” in Issue 11. In the latter, Anuj discusses his favorite movie The Dark Knight and the scientific aspects of why people love it; he was able to combine his interests for photography and filmmaking with science. When I attended my first Scientifica interest session, Anuj spoke about this article and how the magazine encourages writers to incorporate their interests into their pieces, as science and medicine can be linked to almost any topic. In early 2019, Anuj started as editor-in-chief with the goal of increasing the professional quality of the magazine, not only in writing and design, but also in the quality of reported stories. He’s thankful to the editors before him who advocated for Scientifica and
took it from a student petition to the publication you’re reading today. Scientifica has been able to grow through recruiting an amazing staff and tapping into their creative potentials. When asked how he feels being the editor of the developing publication, Anuj remarks that “mostly it’s always thinking about the big picture, like the sense of responsibility for Scientifica isn’t about me or any other one person, it’s about the magazine.” Over time, Anuj explains his growth as an editor mainly involved delegating and trusting others to do their jobs so that he could do his. When teaching me the basics of editor responsibilities, he emphasized the importance of building a solid team with talented and dedicated people. Spoken as a leader, Anuj attributes Scientifica’s success to the collective work of the core team and staff. He’s most proud of the collaborative pieces, such as COVID frontline reporting in the past 3 issues and the opioid epidemic interviews in Issue 16: The Silent Epidemic. Anuj additionally started the magazines’ video series Groundwork. Just as science articles tend to estrange a non-professional audience, science videos are usually presented in a cold, distant way. Groundwork is a way to expand Scientifica to a different medium by sharing research in a casual way, while honoring the significance of researchers’ work and passions. Check out this season of Groundwork on our website: umscientifica.com/groundwork. Over the past few months, Anuj has been helping me transition to editor-in-chief and further understand the magazine’s purpose. He explains that so many problems exist because of issues in science communication and the responsibility of science journalism is to repair those faults by telling stories that matter in an accessible way. Anuj will be attending UM’s Miller School of Medicine in the fall and when asked about what he’ll miss about the magazine, he immediately said, “the people”. Thank you Anuj and although you won’t be far away, Scientifica will miss you more! PS - Check out Anuj’s Instagram account dedicated to wildlife and nature: @anujshahwildlife
THANK YOU, ANUJ!
“the sense of responsibility for Scientifica isn’t about me or any other one person, it’s about the magazine.”