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UA Branding Expert Says NFL's Image Will Recover

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 16:38

A bad-news NFL season that began with a shocking elevator video and is ending with "Deflategate" might make you wonder if the league is the damage-control center of the universe.

To which Hope Schau says: Don’t worry about the NFL. It has survived scandals in the past, and it’s going to take much more than this season’s high-profile troubles to sink the ship.

"Every brand is a work in progress," says Schau, an expert on branding and an associate professor of marketing in the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management.

"The NFL hasn’t lost the essence of what it is. There was a time when (its players) might have been more representative of ideal citizenship. But there are generations now where that may not be as important. At the end of the day, people are still going to watch football. There will be fans, and the game will still represent America."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of the controversy involving Ray Rice, formerly a star player for the Baltimore Ravens, is a cloud that still hangs over the league ahead of its marquee event, Sunday's Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. Rice was arrested and indicted for aggravated assault last March 24 after his then-fiancee (and now wife) Janay Palmer was punched in the face in an elevator in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  The blow rendered Palmer unconscious.

Rice initially was suspended by Goodell for two 2014 games, then his contract was terminated by the Ravens on Sept. 8 after additional, graphic video of the couple's encounter had been posted by a celebrity news website. The domestic-violence issue has stayed in the forefront through the NFL’s participation in "No More" public-service announcements, featuring current and former players going on camera to repudiate domestic violence. The league’s domestic-violence controversy was named the top sports story of 2014 by the Associated Press.

Schau says the NFL made at least two mistakes in its handling of the Rice affair. It was too slow to act in the wake of the incident, she says, and it hasn’t helped itself by keeping the focus on a negative issue via No More.

"It was hard to see that (elevator video) and not form an opinion," Schau says. "Getting out in front of the message and taking action early is always the better option…. Indecision doesn’t play well with an audience that saw what it saw. Imagining it would go away is naïve. Be prepared for the (social media) sharing and get out in front of it."

No More, a 5-year-old coalition of various groups against domestic violence and sexual assault, didn’t gain traction until the incident with Rice and one involving Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson put domestic violence in the national headlines. But the PSA campaign isn’t allowing the league to move forward, Schau says, by the way it inadvertently prompts the public to flash back to the elevator tape, giving amplification to the wrong thing.

"I would hope that our standard is that we treat people well, not just that we don’t treat them badly," Schau says of the TV spots. "That’s a low bar to clear. The NFL could be highlighting the good things it is doing in outreach. It could show support of women’s sports, for example. I know they’re doing some of that, so why aren’t we hearing about it?"

Schau says companies and celebrities consistently manage to survive damage to their brand, citing examples such as Tylenol (a tampering scare in 1982), the TV show "Two and a Half Men" (actor Charlie Sheen’s notorious problems) and Rob Lowe (a bad-boy actor turned popular pitchman).

"There are a million and one ways to recover," she says.

Threats to the safety of pro football (concussions) and its integrity (the underinflation of game-day footballs, signaling a larger issue of rules-breaking) are potentially more damaging to the game than social issues are, Schau says.

In any case, it’s wise for the NFL to realize that social media have created a whole new landscape for messaging.

"Technology allows 24-7 access, and everyone can forward and comment," Schau says. "I use the example of a rock concert. Most people never know that before going on, the band might have had a fight. But social media bring backstage to center stage. There’s a transparency that’s positive, but some of it can’t be edited. We now know what’s going on to an unprecedented degree.

"With social media, you can craft your self-presentation. And yet, something private can become public rapidly. (The Rice video) is a moment that no one anticipated would be seen."

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: A season of controversy put the issue of domestic violence in the headlines, but Hope Schau says the league's future is secure because "people are still going to watch football."Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

To an Asteroid and Back, All From the Parking Lot

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 10:01

Thousands of stars, a looming asteroid, a depiction of the ancient Egyptian deity of Osiris and a man-made space robot whizzing in between — all that and more now graces the western façade of the UA's Michael J. Drake Building, courtesy of students of the UA School of Art.

To celebrate OSIRIS-REx, NASA's $1 billion mission led by the UA that will send a spacecraft to asteroid Bennu and bring back a sample to Earth, 10 art students devoted the fall semester to painting a 20-by-60-foot mural. The work was part of a mural painting class taught by Alfred Quiroz, a UA professor of art in the School of Art. Quiroz also oversaw the creation of the mural for the Phoenix Mars Lander mission in 2006. 

"The OSIRIS-REx mission benefits from the diverse talents of UofA students in many ways," said the mission's principal investigator, Dante Lauretta, a professor of planetary science in the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. "For this project, we sought to bring the excitement of an asteroid sample return mission to a piece of public art for all of Tucson to enjoy."

After a meeting with Lauretta to get an idea of the scope of the mission, Quiroz's crew — seven undergraduate students and two graduate students who never had designed or painted a mural — went to work, creating the mural over the course of the fall semester.

Deputy Principal Investigator Ed Beshore said: "The OSIRIS-REx mission is far more than the technical achievement of returning a sample from an ancient asteroid. It symbolizes a universal human drive to understand the mystery that is our universe. The mural has succeeded in reflecting both of these ideas. We are grateful to Professor Quiroz and his students for this wonderful addition to our building."

"My students prepared sketches and I guided them to create a final presentation," Quiroz said. "Once the mural design was approved, we immediately began the layout utilizing a grid on the final design. I introduced the students to the underpainting method of using complementary colors, so in essence we painted the mural twice."

"It was a real pleasure to collaborate with Professor Quiroz and his talented group of students," Lauretta said. "The result is an amazing work of creative art and a fitting tribute to the mission and to Michael Drake, our leader during the early stages of mission development."

Drake, a Regents' Professor who was director of the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and head of the planetary sciences department, died in 2011.

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Arts and HumanitiesScience and TechnologyYouTube Video:  OSIRIS-REx Mission hits the wall at UA Lunar Planetary Laboratory Video of OSIRIS-REx Mission hits the wall at UA Lunar Planetary Laboratory Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: OSIRIS-REx has hit the wall, courtesy of a stunning mural created by UA art students that celebrates the high-profile space mission. UANow Image: Date of Publication: Monday, January 26, 2015Send to Never Settle Site: 0Includes video: 

UA Arthritis Center Receives $6.1M Grant

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 18:21

Researchers at  the University of Arizona Arthritis Center at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson are working to identify treatments to slow the progression of osteoarthritis, supported by a recent $6.1 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

The most common cause of disability in the aging population, osteoarthritis is a complex condition involving not only the breakdown of cartilage in joints but also changes in adjacent soft tissue and bone beneath the cartilage, leading to debilitating joint pain and stiffness and often pain in surrounding muscles and ligaments. The public health impact of knee OA, in particular, is expected to increase dramatically. No cure exists and no FDA-approved drugs are available to prevent development or halt the progression of the condition.

The study, "Risk of Incident Knee OA & Clinical Outcomes Based on Imaging Biomarkers," builds on two ongoing studies: the Osteoarthritis Initiative, or OAI, and the Pivotal OAI MRI Analyses, or POMA, an ancillary proposal to the OAI. The OAI was designed to address the lack of biomarkers — biologic features that can be used to measure the presence or progress of a disease or the effects of treatment — for the development and progression of knee OA. The POMA utilized the OAI MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) to identify imaging biomarkers of knee OA development and progression as long as 48 months prior to the onset of radiographic knee OA, or ROA.

ROA symptoms may not correlate with joint damage shown by X-ray or MRI. People with ROA may have little or no pain, yet joint function still may be significantly impacted, causing difficulty performing activities of daily living.

"Recent advances in magnetic resonance imaging have improved our understanding of the relationship between pathology and the structural changes to cartilage, subchondral bone and the surrounding soft tissues of the joint in OA," said the study's principal investigator, Dr. C. Kent Kwoh. An internationally recognized expert in osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other joint diseases, Kwoh is director of the UA Arthritis Center; professor of medicine and medical imaging at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson; the Charles A.L. and Suzanne M. Stephens Chair of Rheumatology; and chief of the Division of Rheumatology, UA Department of Medicine.

"The overall objective of this proposal is to take advantage of a time-limited opportunity to build on our prior work and leverage the wealth of longitudinal data, including high-resolution MRI imaging at 3 Tesla, which already has been accumulated in the OAI," Kwoh said. "We will be able to test whether structural changes detectable by MRI predict the onset of ROA and the development of important clinical outcomes 24 months to 120 months later, and therefore much earlier in the disease course than currently established. A 120-month visit will be added to the OAI for participants with knees that did not have ROA at baseline."

The 3T MRI data is a critical feature of the study. MRI scanners come in different magnetic field strengths measured in Teslas, or "T." A 3T MRI is stronger than a usual MRI used for clinical care and provides extremely sharp images with minute details to better visualize joint structures.

"The specific aims of this study are to identify imaging biomarkers of the development of incident ROA earlier in the disease course — and to identify the association of imaging biomarkers with changes in pain, function and performance associated with the onset of ROA," said study co-PI Dr. Ali Guermazi, professor of radiology, section chief of musculoskeletal imaging and director of the Quantitative Imaging Center at Boston University School of Medicine.

Noted for his contributions in the diagnosis and disease progression assessment of osteoarthritis using MRI, Guermazi’s work focuses on identifying structural risk factors for developing and worsening osteoarthritis. He has been involved in developing several radiological methods to assess osteoarthritis disease risk and progression, and has been involved as an MRI reader in several large NIH-funded studies, including the OAI.

Said Kwoh: "Ultimately, this line of research will help to identify key risk factors for the development of OA and OA structural disease progression, and to identify potential targets for preventative and/or therapeutic interventions."

Study collaborators include researchers with four OAI clinical centers: University of Pittsburgh, University of Maryland, Ohio State University and Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island, as well as with Northwestern University and Boston University. The University of San Francisco is providing data management.

The research is supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the NIH under Award Number R01AR066601. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Jean SpinelliByline: Jean SpinelliByline Affiliation: AHSC Office of Public AffairsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of disability in the aging population, and the public health impact of knee OA, in particular, is expected to increase dramatically. Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noIncludes video: 

Engineering Discovery Brings Invisibility Closer to Reality

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 16:52

Since the beginning of recorded time, humans have used materials found in nature to improve their lot. Since the turn of this century, scientists have studied metamaterials, artificial materials engineered to bend electromagnetic, acoustic and other types of waves in ways not possible in nature.

Now, Hao Xin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Arizona, has made a discovery with these synthetic materials that may take engineers one step closer to building microscopes with superlenses that see molecular-level details, or shields that conceal military airplanes and even people.

Xin reported his findings with co-authors in an article, "Microwave Gain Medium With Negative Refractive Index," just published in the online journal Nature Communications.

In the UA’s Millimeter Wave Circuits and Antennas Laboratory, Xin uses a 3-D printer to make metamaterials from metals, plastics and other substances. Resembling porous plastic bowling balls and tiny copper wire circuit boards, these objects are configured in precise geometrical patterns to bend waves of energy in unnatural ways. In particular, they exhibit a property called negative refraction, meaning they can bend a wave backward.

Through a prism with negative refraction, a straw leaning in a glass of water would appear inverted: The piece above the water’s surface would appear below the water and leaning in the opposition direction.

In a more futuristic scenario, someone looking at a person wearing a cloak with artificially designed refraction properties would see part or none of the person, depending on the cloak’s refractive index distribution and whether the light bouncing off of it reached the viewer’s eye.

Xin studies how metamaterials affect microwaves. But whether studying microwaves, light waves, sound waves or seismic waves, metamaterials with negative refraction have presented a vexing physics problem for engineers: They reduce the strength of the wave.

"One of the biggest problems with metamaterials is that they produce energy loss," Xin said. "The waves decay as they pass through the artificial material. We have designed a metamaterial that retains negative refraction but does not diminish energy."

In fact, the synthetic material not only prevented energy loss — it actually caused energy gain, with the microwave intensifying in strength as it passed through the material. Xin achieved this by embedding simple battery-powered tunnel diodes (a type of semiconductor device) and micronanofabrication technologies into the new material.

"Many people did not think it was possible to achieve energy gain along with negative refraction," Xin said.

He first showed it was possible, with one-dimensional metamaterials, in a paper published in Physical Review Letters in 2011. His new findings reported in Nature Communications have broader implications, because they involve 3-D metamaterials.

The research is funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, or AFOSR. Xin presented his findings in November 2014 at Duke University to scientists with the Tri-Service Metamaterials Program, which promotes collaboration among government, industry and academia to advance metamaterials research and development for the Department of Defense.

Xin, whose research projects also include using breast cancer imaging techniques to detect explosives, conducts his AFOSR-funded metamaterials research with doctoral students in the Millimeter Wave Circuits and Antennas Lab.

"I always wanted to work on metamaterials, due to their interesting physical properties such as negative refractive index," said UA doctoral student Adnan Kantemur. “I also wanted to be able to fabricate these structures. Most of the research groups I know only study them analytically. In our group, not only are we solving analytic problems, we also have the opportunity to make the metamaterials ourselves."

While Xin works with microwave frequencies, his findings have implications for optical, acoustic and other types of radiation. Metamaterials with both negative refraction and energy gain properties will help engineers tackle problems of lens diffraction that prevent even the most sophisticated microscopes from probing some extremely tiny materials, including many individual proteins and viruses.

Beyond such superlenses for biomedical and other uses, metamaterials are being studied to produce higher-performance microwave circuits, more energy-efficient and earthquake-resistant buildings, more powerful solar power converters, improved sensor technologies, and ever-smaller antennas that will make wireless devices used for everything from health monitoring to military surveillance more flexible, efficient and practical.

Metamaterials remain in the testing phase. Xin said it will be years before potential fantastical applications like invisibility cloaks actually appear on the market.

But his research is inherently practical, he said, predicting: "Invisibility cloaks will be a reality in my lifetime."

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Jill GoetzByline Affiliation: UA College of EngineeringHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Bending energy waves and blowing your mind: UA professor Hao Xin has overcome a research hurdle in the race to build invisibility cloaks and other fantastical devices. Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noIncludes video: 

Providing Tomorrow's Medicine Today

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 15:13

Dr. Marvin Slepian, University of Arizona professor of cardiology, knows how to bridge the gap between the bench and the bedside.

Slepian has made the connection between creative entrepreneurship and significant health care issues to innovate and deliver solutions, such as the artificial heart, that enhance and save lives.

In his latest venture, he will help extend the linkages between UA research and the public as director of the Arizona Center for Accelerated Biomedical Innovation.

The center, also known as ACABI, will help researchers form collaborations, find applications for new discoveries, develop their technologies and access resources to move their innovations forward. It will focus primarily on the development of translational biomedical technologies.

"ACABI is a 'creativity engine' that will fuel translational research at the UA," Slepian said. "It will maximize the value of University research. It will translate interesting discoveries into real, practical value, and it will be an economic engine to drive new startups and new corporate efforts in Arizona."

ACABI will focus its efforts on addressing unmet needs in health care. Slepian said some areas ACABI will work to address include hospital re-admission rates for common diseases, big data management, health care delivery efficiency, heart failure, diabetes and its complications, obesity and eating disorders, aging and mobility, hypertension and asthma.

The center will address these critical areas by developing solutions such as wearable technologies, new drug therapies, medical interventions and point-of-care diagnostic systems.

"The other side of ACABI, in addition to addressing unmet needs, is the science side," Slepian said. "We will go around the University and find out from scientists, 'What are you working on?' It's a way to bring together fields that would not normally talk to each other."

Slepian said that ACABI "aligns itself beautifully with Never Settle," the UA's strategic and academic business plan that calls for an increase in University research on topics such as population health, precision health and health care disparities.

Throughout his career, Slepian has crossed into multiple disciplines. In addition to being a cardiologist at the UA Sarver Heart Center, he also is associate department head of biomedical engineering at the UA, director of interventional cardiology at the UA Medical Center and a McGuire Scholar in the Eller College of Management.

He is a co-founder of SynCardia Systems Inc., the world's first and only FDA-approved total artificial heart provider, and PolyNova, a startup grown out of collaboration between the UA and Stony Brook University, as well as several other medical device companies.

His experience in bringing inventions to market should serve him well as ACABI director, said David AllenTech Launch Arizona vice president.

"He represents a nexus of many of the UA's emerging strengths, including biomedical engineering, translational medicine and technology commercialization," Allen said.

Allen said that TLA, the UA's commercialization unit, will work in close partnership with ACABI.

"ACABI will collaborate closely with TLA, as the center will be maturing inventions and readying them for introduction into the commercial marketplace," Allen said.

The innovations developed by ACABI eventually will be used to improve and save the lives of people across Arizona and the world, said Dr. Joe G.N. "Skip" Garcia, UA senior vice president for health sciences and interim dean of the UA College of Medicine – Tucson.

Garcia said ACABI will allow the UA to make a greater impact on communities through its research.

"ACABI is key not only to innovative approaches that will provide 'tomorrow's medicine today' for patients in Arizona, the Southwest and the nation, but also is integral to our efforts at the Arizona Health Sciences Center to expedite research consistent with the UA's focus on innovation and creating impact through translational technologies," Garcia said.

For Slepian, it's another opportunity to build a bridge — one that connects academic research with practical applications.

"If you think about it, universities are traditionally very academic places," Slepian said. "Universities have come around to the idea that its good to translate research into more pracical uses. ... The idea behind ACABI is to be a catalytic mechanism to really advance and drive translational activities." 

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The Arizona Center for Accelerated Biomedical Innovation will transform UA research into practical health care solutions through the commercialization of biomedical technologies.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Department of Philosophy Retains Top Ranking

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 18:43

The University of Arizona has one of the best philosophy graduate departments in the world, according to 2014-15 rankings published in the Philosophical Gourmet Report.

Overall, the department ranked 13th. It also ranked first in political philosophy and in the top 10 in several specialty areas.

"It’s an excellent showing," said Michael Gill, head of the UA Department of Philosophy. "We are tied with MIT and UNC Chapel Hill and ahead of Cornell, Brown, Chicago, Duke and many other big-name schools. And when the comparison range is restricted to public universities, we rank sixth.

"There is a good deal of controversy these days about the value of these particular rankings," Gill said. "But for now, they’re still the ones that are most influential."

The Philosophical Gourmet Report’s rankings are based on surveys of hundreds of philosophers in English-speaking universities and colleges. The controversy about the rankings stems from questions about the validity of such surveys and about how experts in each field are identified. 

Other rankings corroborate the excellence of the UA’s Philosophy Department. In the most recent National Research Council rankings, the department was rated as high as 13th in the country.

The Philosophical Gourmet Report also ranks sub-areas of the discipline.

"We continued as undisputed, alone-at-the-top number one in political philosophy," Gill said. "For several years, the UA had been ranked number one in the world in this specialty, but often tied with other institutions. The UA’s continued investment in this discipline, especially since the creation of the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom in 2008, has allowed the UA to command a strong lead in this area."

The UA also placed in the top 10 in the areas of ancient philosophy, epistemology, philosophy of action, philosophy of physics, philosophy of cognitive science, ethics and meta-ethics.

"Students interested in a career in philosophy will look to these rankings when deciding where to pursue their degrees," Gill said. "Professors will also look to these rankings when considering the best places to conduct their research and to work with outstanding students. In short, these rankings help us attract some of the best philosophy students and professors in the world."

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: College of Social and Behavioral SciencesHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: UA first in political philosophy and 13th overall among graduate departments in the most recent rankings by the Philosophical Gourmet Report.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noIncludes video: 

UA Invention Slows Water Evaporation, Generates Energy

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 17:47

A new technology invented at the University of Arizona offers a positive environmental impact by slowing the evaporation of water from bodies of water such as mining tailings ponds and reservoirs, while simultaneously generating solar energy.

The invention, called Hexocover, consists of floating hexagonal plastic panels that sandwich 4-inch balls linked together to form a cover to prevent evaporation. The panel design addresses the need for mobility through the inclusion of a propulsion system as well as GPS, so the panels can be built to be remotely configurable. Further, when configured with solar cells, the panels can generate electricity.

The cover minimizes water evaporation, the high cost to replace that water and mine energy costs. And, in the end, it minimizes the overall environmental impact of such operations. With such features, the market possibilities grew to address similar needs for other types of bodies of water, such as reservoirs and swimming pools.

Developed by Moe Momayez in the Department of Mining and Geological Engineeering in the UA College of Engineering and Nathan Barba, managing partner at RePower Design, Hexocover is the result of their effort to find ways to conserve water in mining tailings (remediation) ponds.

The company worked with Tech Launch Arizona, the unit of the UA that commercializes inventions emanating from University research, to execute an exclusive license to bring the invention to market. 

The license grants RePower Design the sole right to commercialize the technology, which includes both the floating panel design as well as the solar panel integration. The company already has begun developing products based on the patent, which Tech Launch Arizona filed on behalf of the UA in the summer of 2014. 

According to Barba, Tucson has an evaporation rate of 109 inches per year. Water in storage facilities such as tailings ponds and reservoirs always needs replenishment.

"We needed a way to prevent the evaporation of (tailing pond) water, but we needed a system that could move out of the way when the tailings are being released into the ponds," Barba says. "If we can cover them, we can help with the devastating water shortage problem here in the southwestern U.S. and around the world."

A system was needed that would allow wind and rain to freely pass through.

For the past seven years, Momayez has been investigating the integration of photovoltaic, or PV, panel deployment with mining land reclamation processes, mining-specific environmental effects on PV output efficiency, and geotechnical considerations related to the installation of panels on tailing slopes. 

"The PV work on reclaimed mining lands has gained national recognition," Momayez says, "and the idea to control the evaporation of the supernatant water accumulating in the middle of tailing storage facilities was a natural extension of my research and a huge step forward to save water in arid climates worldwide."

"For someone who owns a water reservoir, like a mine or municipality, this invention provides a dual benefit and a dual revenue stream," Barba says.

"Water conservation is a societal imperative, not just in the Southwest, but around the globe," says Doug Hockstad, director of technology transfer at Tech Launch Arizona. "Technologies like this will help save water, especially in arid environments. Since the University of Arizona has such a strong research history in this area, it's exciting to see that research having a social and economic impact."

"I’m most excited about the possibilities of fixing a big problem," Barba says. "It’s been interesting to have this original challenge, and then see it develop and get refined and perfected, and now to see it working."

Seed funding for Momayez’s evaporation control project was provided by the UA Renewable Energy Network. UA REN director Ardeth Barnhart said of the project: "Mining activity typically requires a lot of energy, and this technology is a great example of how original ideas that develop the use of solar energy to transform industrial processes can have immediate and transformative effects on water and energy use, create positive environmental impact, and provide direct benefits to our economy."

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Paul TumarkinByline Affiliation: Tech Launch ArizonaHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Assisted by Tech Launch Arizona, a floating product called Hexocover has multiple benefits and can help address the water shortage in the Southwest.Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noIncludes video: 

The Molecular Biology Behind ALS

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 11:07

By now, most everyone has seen videos all over social media of friends and family dousing themselves in ice cold water as part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

The 2014 campaign was part of an effort to raise awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a devastating neurodegenerative disorder that causes progressive muscle weakening and loss of coordination. But what made much less of a splash in the media is what researchers are doing to tackle the issue.

ALS is notoriously difficult to treat, and relatively little is known about exactly how and why it occurs. In a rare discovery, a clear molecular defect has been found at the junctions between neurons and muscles, which may provide greater insight into the fundamental mechanisms of ALS, according to a new study by Daniela Zarnescu, associate professor in the University of Arizona's Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Alyssa Coyne, a graduate student in the UA's Neuroscience Graduate Interdisciplinary Program and first author on the study. The paper is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

In healthy people, nerve cells called motor neurons make contact with muscle fibers at places called neuromuscular junctions, which allows for appropriate control of movement and other critical functions. In ALS patients, motor neurons die off in droves, preventing these connections from occurring.

To study ALS, Zarnescu and Coyne use the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as their model, which gives the researchers the advantage of molecular and genetic approaches that allow them to more easily pinpoint exactly when and where things go wrong.

"When you tell people that you use the fruit fly as a model of human disease, you get some funny looks," Zarnescu said. "But using simplistic models can help you uncover what's really important in the context of the disease."

Zarnescu and Coyne studied a protein called TDP-43, which previously has been implicated in ALS. The team found that TDP-43 regulates the creation and transport of another protein called Futsch at the neuromuscular junction. In the ALS model, TDP-43 prevents Futsch from making it to the neuromuscular junction, which results in a faulty connection.

"Alyssa discovered that this particular molecule is not regulated properly. It's not made in the right place or in the right amount," Zarnescu said. "Instead of being transported to the neuromuscular junction, it stays in the body of the cell and can't maintain the stability of the connection."

The researchers then wanted to determine if increasing the amount of Futsch protein would help repair the poor connection. Astoundingly, overexpressing Futsch in motor neurons had the effect of increasing the stability of the connection, increasing the lifespan of motor neurons and restoring motor function in the ALS fruit flies.

At this point, you might be asking: What does ALS in the nervous system of the fly have to do with ALS in humans?

To find out, Zarnescu and Coyne collaborated with researchers at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix to look at cells from the spinal cords of human ALS patients. The team looked at a protein called MAP1B, which is the mammalian version of the Futsch protein. Remarkably, the localization of MAP1B was altered in a very similar manner to the Futsch protein in fruit flies. The similarities suggest comparable defects in both human and fly models of ALS.

"This highlights the importance of studying human disease in simple models," Zarnescu said. "These models are extremely powerful, and predictive of defects that occur in human patients."

According to Zarnescu and Coyne, the findings represent a major step forward in understanding and eventually treating the disease.

"This study is among the first to highlight such a clear molecular defect at synaptic connections in ALS," Zarnescu said. "We don't yet know exactly what is going on in ALS, but this discovery provides a possible explanation."

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Raymond SanchezByline: Raymond Sanchez, NASA Space Grant Science Writer internByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: UA researchers have identified a molecular defect in motor neurons that may help explain the mechanisms underlying ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noIncludes video: 

US Appeals Court to Hear Arguments at UA Law School

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 10:22

Students and members of the public are invited to get a glimpse inside the appellate court system when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit hears arguments on the University on Arizona campus next week.

The court will hear oral arguments in three cases at the James E. Rogers College of Law on Jan. 29. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit hears arguments at the law school once a year, as part of the court's ongoing statewide public education effort.

The visit is hosted by the law school's William H. Rehnquist Center on the Constitutional Structures of Government. Established in 2006 in honor of 16th Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the nonpartisan center is dedicated to encouraging scholarship about, and public understanding of, separation of powers, balance of powers between federal and state governments, and judicial independence.

The Rehnquist Center hosts visits from three courts each year: the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Arizona Supreme Court and the Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two.

"Part of the Rehnquist Center’s mission is to educate the public about the role of the courts in our system of government," said Sally Rider, director of the Rehnquist Center. "We host appellate court arguments so that students and members of the public can see how appellate courts operate."

This year's Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals arguments will take place from 9:30-11:30 a.m. in the College of Law's Ares Auditorium, Room 164.

Event registration is available online. Seating is available first to those who have registered. Others are welcome to observe on a first-come, first-served basis. 

The cases on the docket are these (detailed information on each is available here):

Adobe Systems v. Joshua Christenson, 9:30-10 a.m.

Adobe Systems Incorporated alleges that Joshua Christenson and Software Surplus Inc. made and distributed copies of Adobe's software without authorization or license, in violation of Adobe's exclusive copyrights of reproduction and distribution. Abode Systems is appealing a September 2012 court ruling in favor of the defendant. 

Arizona Libertarian Party v. Ken Bennett 10-10:30 a.m.

On December 29, 2011, members of the Arizona Libertarian Party and the Arizona Green Party filed a complaint against Arizona's then-Secretary of State Ken Bennett, alleging that the issuance of voter registration forms listing only two of Arizona's four political parties with statewide continuing ballot access abridges the other two parties' First and 14th amendment rights. The plaintiff is appealing a March 2013 judgment in favor of the defendant.

Mauricio Margain v. Elsa Ruiz-Bours 10:30-11 a.m.
Mauricio Fernandez Margain will appeal the district court's denial of his petition under the Hague Convention for the return of his child from the United States to Mexico.

The arguments will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the judges from 11-11:30 a.m. While judges are prohibited from answering questions about pending cases, they can discuss court operations and the decision-making process.

"Getting to see these arguments in person takes away some of the mystery of how cases are decided and makes the process of judging more transparent," Rider said. "You learn what the judges think is important in deciding the particular case at issue, and in shaping the legal doctrine involved. In addition, the judges take time after the arguments to answer general questions about how the courts work, and how judges decide cases. And for those students interested in becoming lawyers, they often get to see superb lawyers in action making oral arguments."

Those who attend must stay to hear arguments in all cases. Those who wish to hear only part of the arguments are invited to observe from the College of Law lobby, where we they will be streamed live.

Photo ID is required to attend. No backpacks, purses, electronic equipment, food or drinks are allowed in the courtroom. T-shirts, shorts, hats, sunglasses and flip-flops also are not permitted. You can read court protocols in their entirety here (PDF).

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Alexis BlueByline: Alexis BlueByline Affiliation: University Relations - CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The court's visit is hosted by the UA's William H. Rehnquist Center on the Constitutional Structures of Government.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

From New York to Tucson With Love

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 14:07

Jeffrey Plevan repeatedly was described as upbeat, joyful, conscientious, thoughtful and full of drive. He also could be unrealistic and overly talkative, and he would sometimes misread social cues. No matter. He was loved by many. 

When he died unexpectedly from a heart attack in 2013 at the age of 36, his parents, Ken and Betsy Plevan, received an outpouring of support and love from those who knew their son.

"When Jeffrey died, we knew that there were a lot of organizations that had been an enormous help to him," Ken said. "We were proud of the life he had led, and we knew we owed a lot to many people."

One of the places that Jeffrey loved was the University of Arizona, where he received an undergraduate degree in Judaic studies, a point of pride for a man who overcame social and academic struggles to carve out a meaningful life for himself.

Finding a Home at the UA

Jeffrey was diagnosed at an early age with severe delayed speech and language processing difficulties. At the age of 3, he began speech and occupational therapy, and he attended special-education schools in New York City until he was 15.

His parents said he had a desire to fit in.

"He had a lot of trouble around the ages of 10 to 14 dealing with children who were not learning disabled," Betsy said. "One of the characteristics of people who have a disability like this is that they don’t read people well."

But by the time Jeffrey "mainstreamed" at age 16, he had developed a strong sense of identity and a streak of independence that would set the stage for his transition to college life at the UA.

To his parents, the UA — a large school clear across the country — hardly seemed like the right fit for Jeffrey, who was familiar with small schools and customized education.

However, his high school college adviser recommended that the Plevans take a look at the UA based on the strength of its Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center, known as the SALT Center. They visited the school and were impressed.

"From Jeff's perspective, his brother went to Michigan, a Big Ten school. Being at a big school was part of his self-identity. The UA also had a great sports program. (Jeff) fell in love with the place," Betsy said.

Said Ken: "I also think it appealed to him to be 2,800 miles away. It was a sign that he was mature enough to live on his own."

Jeffrey's academics got off to a rocky start. On their first trip to visit during Family Weekend, Ken and Betsy learned their son was failing Hebrew. But Jeffrey eventually found his way, thriving in the UA's small Judaic studies program.

"Jeff was the kind of student who made teaching fun," said Beth Alpert Nakhai, associate professor of Judaic studies. "He had an endless supply of curiosity and enthusiasm and a passion for learning."

Ed Wright, director of the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, said: "He was a very conscientious, very thoughtful person. I was impressed by his drive."

At the UA, Jeffrey searched for groups that would help him create a home away from home. In addition to choosing the Judaic studies major, he joined the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and was active in the Jewish groups, the Hillel Center and Chabad.

"He was always looking for a way to be a part of something, and he always found it," Ken said.

Wildcat for Life

After graduating from the UA, Jeffrey worked for more than three years at the American Jewish Historical Society in New York City. He then attended Gratz College in Pennsylvania, earning master's degrees in Judaic studies and Jewish communal service. In December 2010, he joined the staff of Hillel at Hunter College in New York City as its first development associate.

"It was a real career, and he was extraordinarily proud that he had become a contributing member of society," Ken said.

He also remained involved with the UA and eventually became president of the MetroCats, the New York City chapter of the UA Alumni Association.

"He was really proud that he had graduated from the University of Arizona, so staying involved was his way of wearing that on his sleeve," Betsy said.

The MetroCats have named a scholarship, which goes to an incoming freshman from the tri-state area, after Jeffrey.

"Jeff was truly one of a kind, and he is deeply missed," said Beth Martin, a fellow MetroCat. "Jeff always greeted everyone with a big smile on his face, but he had an even bigger heart. He always returned from Tucson with UA gifts for members of the MetroCats. He would sing the praises of the UA any chance he got."

Added MetroCat Alie Vidal: "The University of Arizona Alumni Association's slogan is 'Wildcat for Life.' There is no better example than Jeff Plevan. Jeff was accepting of everyone. Whether you were fortunate enough to know him for years, or you just met him at a watch party for the first time — without even knowing it, you just made a friend for life."

In memory of Jeffrey, the Plevans are funding a professorship and a lecture series in the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies.

The 2014 inaugural speaker for the Jeffrey Plevan Memorial Lecture was Itamar Rabinovich, president of the Israel Institute and Israel's former ambassador to the United States.

This year's lecture is on Jan. 27. Ted Sassoon, a senior research scientist at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University, will speak on "Before and After the Gaza War: American Jews' New Relationship to Israel." Future lectures will focus on Israel studies in areas in politics, culture, technology and economics.

The Jeffrey B. Plevan Assistant Professor in Judaic Studies will be hired in the next year.

Wright is grateful to the Plevans for their investment in the center.

"An endowed professorship adds prestige to the unit and enables us to do things that we couldn't do without external support," Wright said. "We are very thankful to Ken and Betsy. They are very special people."

For their part, the Plevans see the gift as a chance to not only keep their son's memory alive, but to thank the institution that helped Jeff find his place in the world.

"Jeffrey had a lot of difficulties to overcome, but because of that enormous enthusiasm he had, he made a life for himself, and he built it around his love of Judaism, his fraternity and the University of Arizona," Ken said. "He was accepted here."

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Lori HarwoodByline Affiliation: UA College of Social and Behavioral SciencesWhat: Jeffrey Plevan Memorial LectureWhere: UA Hillel Center, 1245 E. Second St., in Mountain A and BWhen: Jan. 27 at 4:30 p.m.Extra Info: 

To read the complete story about Jeffrey Plevan, visit the the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences page

 

Ted Sassoon, a senior research scientist at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University, will be speaking on "Before and After the Gaza War: American Jews' New Relationship to Israel." Sassoon also is an international studies professor at Middlebury College, a visiting research professor of sociology at Brandeis University and consultant to the Mandel Foundation. For more information on the lecture, visit online.

 

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Before alumnus Jeffrey Plevan died two years ago at the age of 36, he made an indelible impression on fellow Wildcats everywhere. His parents haven't forgotten what the UA did for him.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

What Fosters Global Achievement?

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 13:59

I learned how to be a neuroscientist from many people, including my post-doctorate mentor John O'Keefe, a professor at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and the Department of Anatomy at University College London. O'Keefe encouraged me to be bold and persistent, and I discovered the joy of conducting research and the value of cross-disciplinary exposure to fields, including physiology to psychology, engineering, philosophy, music and art.

The UA's Carol Barnes attended the recent Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden.

O'Keefe has become a lifelong friend and collaborator who inspires me even today as I lead the University of Arizona's Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute.

In December, O'Keefe invited Lynn Nadel, UA Regents' Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science, and me to be his personal guests at the Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden. O'Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser received the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for research that began in the laboratory we shared together more than 40 years ago.

John is important to me for what he taught me about leadership and the skills that define a great researcher. He always made time for me, just as today I open my door to students. He also gave me the pace to explore my ideas, even the wacky ones. Now as I work with students, I’ve learned to hold the reins loosely, too.

A scientist’s life is rarely glamorous, but the Nobel Prize ceremonies were a flurry of banquets, tours of museums, concerts and lectures. Even the Swedish Royal Family attended the awards ceremony. Throughout the week, women donned gowns, men dressed in tuxedos and gourmet meals were served with choreographed precision. But most meaningful were the rare opportunities to be around my dear colleagues, who are like family.

The UA's intimate connection to Nobel Prize-winning research isn't a coincidence. The UA invests in talented, top-notch scientists, including promising students, and builds state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment. In many fields — not just neuroscience — UA researchers are global leaders.

If we want to continue to achieve great things, it is imperative that we invest in all of our academic disciplines — not just mine, and not just the sciences. We have demonstrated expertise in optics, engineering, health sciences, dance and music, philosophy and more. The interdisciplinary nature of this University, paired with its renowned expertise, sets us apart and fosters our creativity.

What does it take to continue our success? We must build trust in each other, from leadership to lawmakers, philanthropists to peers. It’s the same principle that John instilled in me years ago and that I give to my students today. It takes active engagement and resources. It takes the nurture and support of faculty through endowments, and student scholarships and fellowships. It takes a continued investment in our infrastructure. And it requires a visionary perspective that measures ROI in terms of decades, not merely years.

And sometimes it takes putting on a fancy gown and remembering that the work we do matters. The relationships established here, today, and the investments we make in the UA, are filled with a potential we can only imagine.

Carol Barnes is a Regents' Professor in the Departments of Psychology, Neurology and Neuroscience. Barnes also is the Evelyn F. McKnight Endowed Chair for Learning and Memory in Aging and director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute. At the UA, Barnes also serves as the director of the Arizona Research Laboratory Division of Neural Systems, Memory & Aging, and as the associate director of the BIO5 Institute. She is past president of the 42,000-member Society for Neuroscience, an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an elected foreign member of the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters.

Categories: HealthSocial Sciences and EducationThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Tags: FacultyResearchEducationOutreachByline: Carol Barnes, Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute |Editor: dougcarrollInclude in UANow: 0Date of Publication: Tuesday, January 20, 2015Medium Summary: UA Regents' Professor Carol Barnes was invited to attend the most recent Nobel Prize ceremony by her post-doctorate mentor, John O'Keefe, who shared in the award for the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Feature on Front: YesShort Summary: UA Regents' Professor Carol Barnes received a personal invitation to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony.Send to Never Settle Site: 0UA in the News Spotlight: Includes video: 

Transgenic Crops: Multiple Toxins No Panacea for Pest Control

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 11:55

Strategies for delaying insect resistance to transgenic crops rely on assumptions that often are overly optimistic, a new study led by University of Arizona scientists shows. Published as an advance online publication by the journal Nature Biotechnology, the findings could improve management practices for current biotech crops and promote development of new varieties that are more effective and more durable.

Crops genetically engineered to produce proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to control insect pests have been planted on a cumulative total of more than a billion acres worldwide since 1996. With some pests rapidly evolving resistance to Bt crops that make only one toxin, biotech companies introduced Bt crops called "pyramids" that produce two or more Bt toxins active against the same pest. Such pyramids have been adopted in many countries since 2003, including the United States, India and Australia.

To assess the potential of pyramids to delay evolution of resistance by pests, the paper's lead author, Yves Carrière, and co-author Bruce Tabashnik, both in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, analyzed data from 38 studies that report effects of 10 Bt toxins used in transgenic crops against 15 insect pests. They found that in many cases, the crops' actual efficacy against pests did not live up to the expectations used to inform computer simulation models that aim to predict the evolution of pest resistance. Thus, the simulations could underestimate how quickly pests adapt to Bt crops and lead to inadequate management guidelines.

"The idea behind Bt crop pyramids can be explained with a lock-and-key analogy," said Tabashnik, who heads the UA's Department of Entomology and also is a member of the UA's BIO5 Institute. "The lock on the door is the receptor protein in the insect's gut, and the key is the Bt toxin that binds to that receptor. To be able to kill the insect, the toxin must fit the lock to open the door and get inside.

"If you have only one key — one toxin — and a mutation has changed the lock — the receptor — then the toxin can't open the door and get inside. The insect is resistant and survives. Now imagine you have two keys, one for the front door and a different one for the back door. Let's say you're trying to get in through the front door, but the key doesn't work because the lock has changed. Your second key will get you in through the back door, provided the lock there hasn't changed as well. So, if you can't kill the insect one way, you can kill it another way. That's how pyramids work. It's like having two different keys, so the insect needs two different mutations to become resistant."

However, the scenario described above is an ideal situation that is often not achieved in the real world, according to the new study. At the other extreme, some Bt crop pyramids could have two toxins that bind to the same receptor.

"In that scenario, the keys are so similar that each only opens the front door, and if that lock is changed, you're out of luck," Tabashnik said.

The reality, the authors found in this study, is often somewhere in between.

"If each toxin is highly effective on its own and two toxins act independently, the pyramid should kill at least 99.75 percent of the Bt-susceptible pests," explained Carrière, a professor of entomology in the UA's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "In other words, fewer than three of every thousand susceptible insects should survive."

Scrutinizing the scientific literature, Carrière and Tabashnik discovered that this assumption was met only in about half of the cases. They also found that, contrary to the ideal scenario typically assumed, selection for resistance to one toxin in a pyramid often causes cross-resistance to another toxin in the pyramid.

One goal of this study, Carrière explained, is to help biotech companies decide which toxins to put in their pyramided crops based on data that already exist, rather than by a time-consuming process of trial and error. "Will two toxins behave as one key or two keys, or somewhere in between?" he said. "And can we use understanding of how these toxins work to answer that question?"

To help find answers, Neil Crickmore of the University of Sussex, an expert in Bt toxin structure and function who co-authored the study, used data available online to analyze the similarity of toxins in each of their three component parts, called domains. Consistent with previous biochemical work showing that the middle domain of the toxins plays a key role in binding to receptors, the new study shows that cross-resistance between toxins is associated with their amino acid sequence similarity in this domain. Results from the new study also indicate that amino acid sequence similarity in another domain contributes to mortality of Bt-susceptible insects on pyramids.

"We identified specific domains involved in expression of traits that govern evolution of resistance to pyramids, and propose that toxins with different amino acid similarity in these domains could be combined to produce more effective and durable pyramids," Carrière said. "With the available technology, it is now possible to swap domains and engineer each Bt toxin with the desired domain configuration. The information provided in our study could help the design of such chimeric toxins used in pyramids."

The authors emphasized that their work provides the community with systematic procedures that can be used by anyone working on these questions, including larger datasets and other toxins.

"Our results mean that the keys — toxins — used in Bt crops by farmers worldwide are often not as different from each other as we would like," Tabashnik said. "And that, in turn, has huge implications for agencies tasked with setting standards for the size of refuges to be planted."

The refuge strategy is the primary approach used to delay pest resistance to Bt crops in the United States and elsewhere. This strategy is based on the idea that refuges, which consist of non-Bt host plants near or in fields of Bt crops, produce susceptible pests that mate with the rare resistant individuals surviving on Bt crops. In Arizona, the refuge strategy worked brilliantly against the pink bollworm, where the pest had plagued cotton farmers for a century but is now scarce. In India, on the other hand, where farmers did not plant refuges, pink bollworm rapidly evolved resistance to Bt cotton.

The data from this study could help modelers make more accurate predictions of how a certain pyramided Bt crop will perform and help policy makers determine refuge strategies more realistically.

"We provide a realistic assessment of which Bt toxins do meet the two-key assumption and work well together so farmers can use small refuges," Tabashnik said, "and which ones are closer to the one-key scenario, so larger refuges are needed or we'll have problems."

This study was supported by U.S. Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grant Award 2011-33522-30729.

Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel StolteByline Affiliation: University Relations – CommunicationsHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: Overly optimistic assumptions about transgenic crops that produce two or more Bt toxins active against the same pest can lead to inadequate strategies for delaying evolution of pest resistance.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Science Lecture Series to Explore Life in the Universe

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 10:48

For its 10th anniversary, the University of Arizona College of Science's popular spring lecture series will present seven free lectures exploring various aspects of life in the universe.

The first lecture will be on Monday, Jan. 26, at 7 p.m. in Centennial Hall on the UA campus.

Life as we know it produces complex order. Earth's many life forms are diverse and continually changing through birth, growth and evolution. The series will investigate questions including: What is life? How do we recognize it?

To understand life in the universe, we ask: What environments produce life and which attributes make something alive? How does life change? Is there life in our solar system or on one of countless exoplanets? Is there a connection between life on Earth and life elsewhere — or are we alone?

All "Life in the Universe" lectures are free and open to the public. The lectures will be held at Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd., on the UA campus. Parking is available on a pay-per-use basis in the Tyndall Avenue Garage, 880 E. Fourth St.

The scheduled lectures:

Jan. 26 — What is Life?

Guy J. Consolmagno, SJ, planetary scientist, Vatican Observatory Research Group

Throughout history, our definition of "life" reflects our assumptions about how the universe works – and why we ask the question. The ways different human cultures, ancient and current, have talked about life provide some sense of how we have defined life and illustrate the aspects of life that fascinate us. Many cultures used life as an analog to explain the movement of winds and currents or the motions of the planets. Today we use those mechanical systems as analogs for life. Ultimately, we may not really know what life is until we have discovered more than one independent example of it on places other than Earth: We need many diverse examples before we can generalize. But without a definition of what we're looking for and why we're looking, we may have a hard time recognizing life when we find it.

Feb. 2 — Planet Formation and the Origin of Life

Dante S. Lauretta, professor, planetary sciences/Lunar and Planetary Laboratory

It is generally accepted that planets or their satellites are required for life to originate and evolve. Thus, to understand the possible distribution of life in the universe, it is important to study planet formation and evolution. These processes are recorded in the chemistry and mineralogy of asteroids and comets and in the geology of ancient planetary surfaces in our solar system. Evidence can also be seen in the many examples of ongoing planet formation in nearby regions of our galaxy. Finally, the variety of observable extra-solar planetary systems also provides insight into their origins and potential for life. These records will be discussed and compared in order to summarize our current understanding of planet formation and the accompanying processes that may lead to the origin of life throughout the universe.

Feb. 9 — Life on Earth: By Chance or By Law?

Brian J. Enquist, professor, ecology and evolutionary biology

Life on Earth is amazing and multifaceted. Ultimately all of life has descended from one common ancestor and has been guided by evolution by natural selection. On the one hand, the evolution of modern-day diversity and ecosystems may have been contingent on the initial chemical building blocks of life and the historical events that have characterized our planet over geologic time. On the other hand, there are numerous aspects of life pointing to regular and deterministic processes that shape the complexity and diversity of life. This talk will touch on those examples where the laws of chemistry and physics, in addition to evolutionary rules, have resulted in general properties of life. These properties ultimately determine how long we live, the diversity of life, the function and regulation of ecosystems and the biosphere, and how life will respond to climate change.

Feb. 16 — Complexity and Evolvability: What Makes Life So Interesting?

Anna R. Dornhaus, associate professor, ecology and evolutionary biology

Life is particularly fascinating in its ability to create complex and ever-changing forms out of simple building blocks. How does such complexity arise, and what are the conditions that allow never-ending evolution of new and more intricate forms of life? We now know that one of the main processes that allows this is that life consists of modules that interact with and feed back on one another. In the history of life on Earth, new levels of complexity have often arisen out of new types of such interactions, and continued evolution has been driven by life interacting with other life. We even find that man-made systems can develop a "life" of their own when such feedback interactions among many modules occur. Life, it seems, is more about rules of interaction than special materials. We have only begun to understand the power of this algorithmic nature of life.

Feb. 23 — Searching for Life in the Solar System

Timothy D. Swindle, professor and head, planetary sciences/Lunar and Planetary Laboratory

When Renaissance scholars figured out that the planets are, like Earth, orbiting the sun, an immediate assumption was that they are inhabited worlds. In the last 50 years, spacecraft have determined that life on the surfaces of planets and moons in the solar system is rare — if it exists at all. However, there are places where a search for life in the solar system may still be fruitful. Although the current surface of Mars is a hostile environment, early Mars may have been much more clement to life. Jupiter's moon Europa is almost certainly barren on the surface, but it has an 'ocean' of liquid water underneath a crust of ice where some terrestrial organisms might be able to thrive. Finally, Saturn's moon Titan would not be suitable for life from Earth, but has rain and seas of liquid hydrocarbons, raising questions about whether life needs liquid water or just needs some abundant liquid.

March 2 — Amazing Discoveries: A Billion Earth-like Worlds

Laird M. Close, professor, astronomy/Steward Observatory

One of the most fascinating developments in the last two decades is humankind's discovery of alien worlds orbiting stars near our sun. Since the first such discovery in 1995 there has been a truly exponential growth in the detection of these new planets. Scientists have been puzzled and surprised by the diversity and extravagance of these new extra-solar systems. For example, we now know the most common type of planet is actually missing from our own solar system. Recently, the space-based NASA Kepler Mission has discovered thousands of new worlds and suggests that one in five sun-like stars may harbor an Earth-like planet. We will take a grand tour of some of these amazing new worlds, specifically noting where life might already exist beyond our solar system. The latest developments and difficulties of direct imaging for life on an exoplanet will be discussed.

March 9 — Intelligent Life Beyond Earth

Christopher D. Impey, University Distinguished Professor, astronomy

One question rises above all others when it comes to our place in a vast and ancient universe: Are we alone? With a billion habitable locations in the Milky Way galaxy and more than ten billion years for biological experiments to play out, a search for intelligent life beyond Earth is well-motivated. Unfortunately, the single example of life on Earth gives no clear indication of whether intelligence is an inevitable or an extremely rare consequence of biological evolution. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, is more appropriately called the search for extraterrestrial technology. So far, the search for intelligent aliens by their electromagnetic communication has met with half a century of stony silence. It's challenging to define life — and even more difficult to make general definitions of intelligence and technology. We'll look at the premises and assumptions involved in the search, the strategies used and the profound consequences of making contact.

Funding for the UA College of Science Spring 2015 Lecture Series is provided by: Arizona Daily Star; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona; Galileo Circle; Godat Design; Holualoa Companies; Hugh and Allyn Thompson; Marshall Foundation; Miraval Resort & Spa; Raytheon; Research Corporation for Science Advancement; Tucson Electric Power; Vantage West Credit Union; and Ventana Medical Systems Inc.

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: UA College of ScienceWhat: 'Life in the Universe' Lecture SeriesWhere: Mondays, Jan. 26 to March 9, at 7 p.m.When: Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd. Visitor pay parking is available in the Tyndall Avenue Garage, 880 E. Fourth St.Extra Info: 

All lectures are free and open to the public. To learn more, visit the College of Science Spring 2015 Lectures website, http://cos.arizona.edu/connections/life-in-the-universe

 

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the popular UA College of Science Lecture Series. Kicking off on Jan. 26, the series will explore life in our universe on biological, planetary and cosmic scales. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Classroom Innovator: Paul Blowers

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 11:55

The classroom of the future has arrived at the University of Arizona.

In October, the UA Science-Engineering Library Collaborative Learning Space was introduced as part of a pilot project intended to reform instruction and improve learning.

The space paralleled other improvements since the launch of the UA AAU Undergraduate STEM Education Project at the end of the spring semester in 2013. It was deemed a success by Gail Burd, senior vice provost for academic affairs.

Designed with input from UA administrators, faculty, librarians, space planners, technology specialists and students, the space featured robust Wi-Fi capabilities, allowed for clicker usage and contained dozens of roundtables with movable chairs. It was equipped with audio speakers, projection screens and sliding whiteboards.

Consider how Paul Blowers, a University Distinguished Professor of chemical and environmental engineering, used the surroundings to teach his Chemical Engineering 201 course.

Blowers opened one class session with a brief talk about an airbag recall affecting millions of drivers in the U.S.

"There are engineers trying to solve this problem, trying to figure out how relative humidity causes this problem," he told his students. "You may be solving this problem in the future."

After then sharing a number of entry-level positions open to students who would soon graduate, Blowers involved students in an active review for their next exam: They had to calculate the conversion of certain compounds, such as chloroform.

The students were encouraged to think aloud, collaborate and share with their neighbors — and also to challenge answers presented by their peers and Blowers himself. Blowers interjected intermittently, often to ask clarifying questions or to offer bits of information to guide students in their thinking.

Structured this way, the aha moments came more regularly for students, and they happened in real time.

"Teaching in the pilot space enables an experience that is so vastly different," Blowers said. 

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Teaching and StudentsYouTube Video:  Classroom Innovation-Paul Blowers Video of Classroom Innovation-Paul Blowers Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: Step inside the environment of a UA engineering professor as he uses an experimental space to enhance learning. The first in a periodic series on classroom innovation.UANow Image: Date of Publication: Friday, January 16, 2015Send to Never Settle Site: 0Includes video: 

Three Nearly Earth-Size Planets Found Orbiting Nearby Star

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 09:33

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, despite being hobbled by the loss of critical guidance systems, has discovered a star with three planets only slightly larger than Earth. The outermost planet orbits in the "Goldilocks" zone, a region where surface temperatures could be moderate enough for liquid water — and perhaps life — to exist.

The star, EPIC 201367065, is a cool red M-dwarf about half the size and mass of our own sun. At a distance of 150 light-years, the star ranks among the top 10 nearest stars known to have transiting planets. The star’s proximity means it is bright enough for astronomers to study the planets’ atmospheres, to determine whether they are like Earth’s atmosphere and possibly conducive to life.

"A thin atmosphere made of nitrogen and oxygen has allowed life to thrive on Earth. But nature is full of surprises. Many exoplanets discovered by the Kepler mission are enveloped by thick, hydrogen-rich atmospheres that are probably incompatible with life as we know it," said Ian Crossfield, the University of Arizona astronomer who led the study.

A paper describing the find by astronomers at the UA, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Hawaii, Manoa, and other institutions has been submitted to Astrophysical Journal and is freely available on the arXiv website. NASA and the National Science Foundation funded the research.

Co-authors of the paper include Joshua Schlieder of the NASA Ames Research Center and colleagues from Germany, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

The three planets are 2.1, 1.7 and 1.5 times the size of Earth. The smallest and outermost planet, at 1.5 Earth radii, orbits far enough from its host star that it receives levels of light from its star similar to those received by Earth from the sun, said UC Berkeley graduate student Erik Petigura. He discovered the planets Jan. 6 while conducting a computer analysis of the Kepler data NASA has made available to astronomers. In order from farthest to closest to their star, the three planets receive 10.5, 3.2 and 1.4 times the light intensity of Earth, Petigura calculated.

"Most planets we have found to date are scorched. This system is the closest star with lukewarm transiting planets," Petigura said. "There is a very real possibility that the outermost planet is rocky like Earth, which means this planet could have the right temperature to support liquid water oceans."

University of Hawaii astronomer Andrew Howard noted that extrasolar planets are discovered by the hundreds these days, although many astronomers are left wondering if any of the newfound worlds are really like Earth. The newly discovered planetary system will help resolve this question, he said.

"We’ve learned in the past year that planets the size and temperature of Earth are common in our Milky Way galaxy," Howard said. "We also discovered some Earth-size planets that appear to be made of the same materials as our Earth, mostly rock and iron."

Kepler’s K2 Mission

After Petigura found the planets in the Kepler light curves, the team quickly employed telescopes in Chile, Hawaii and California to characterize the star’s mass, radius, temperature and age. Two of the telescopes involved — the Automated Planet Finder on Mount Hamilton near San Jose, California, and the Keck Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii — are University of California facilities.

The next step will be observations with other telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, to take the spectroscopic fingerprint of the molecules in the planetary atmospheres. If these warm, nearly Earth-size planets have puffy, hydrogen-rich atmospheres, Hubble will see the telltale signal, Petigura said.

The discovery is all the more remarkable, he said, because the Kepler telescope lost two reaction wheels that kept it pointing at a fixed spot in space.

Kepler was reborn in 2014 as "K2" with a clever strategy of pointing the telescope in the plane of Earth’s orbit, the ecliptic, to stabilize the spacecraft. Kepler is now back to mining the cosmos for planets by searching for eclipses or "transits," as planets pass in front of their host stars and periodically block some of the starlight.

"This discovery proves that K2, despite being somewhat compromised, can still find exciting and scientifically compelling planets," Petigura said. "This ingenious new use of Kepler is a testament to the ingenuity of the scientists and engineers at NASA. This discovery shows that Kepler can still do great science."

Kepler sees only a small fraction of the planetary systems in its gaze: only those with orbital planes aligned edge-on to our view from Earth. Planets with large orbital tilts are missed by Kepler. A census of Kepler planets the team conducted in 2013 corrected statistically for these random orbital orientations and concluded that one in five sunlike stars in the Milky Way galaxy has Earth-size planets in the habitable zone. Accounting for other types of stars as well, there may be 40 billion such planets galaxywide.

The original Kepler mission found thousands of small planets, but most of them were too faint and far away to assess their density and composition and thus determine whether they were high-density, rocky planets like Earth or puffy, low-density planets like Uranus and Neptune. Because the star EPIC-201 is nearby, these mass measurements are possible. The host star, an M-dwarf, is less intrinsically bright than the sun, which means that its planets can reside close to the host-star and still enjoy lukewarm temperatures.

According to Howard, the system most like that of EPIC-201 is Kepler-138, an M-dwarf star with three planets of similar size, though none are in the habitable zone. 

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Mari N. JensenByline Affiliation: UA College of ScienceExtra Info: 

•           A nearby M-star with three transiting super-Earths discovered by K2

            http://arxiv.org/pdf/1501.03798v1.pdf

•           Kepler K2 Mission website

http://keplerscience.arc.nasa.gov/K2/

•           Astronomers answer key question: How common are habitable planets? (November 2013)

http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2013/11/04/astronomers-answer-key-questio...

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: A multinational, multi-institution team of researchers led by UA scientist Ian Crossfield has found a star with three planets, one of which may have temperatures moderate enough for liquid water — and maybe even life — to exist.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

UA-Led HiRISE Camera Spots Long-Lost Space Probe on Mars

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 16:16

The UK-led Beagle 2 Mars Lander, thought lost on Mars since 2003, has been found partially deployed on the surface of the planet, ending the mystery of what happened to the mission more than a decade ago.

Images taken by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or MRO, and initially searched by Michael Croon of Trier, Germany, a former member of the European Space Agency’s Mars Express operations team at the European Space Operations Centre, have identified clear evidence for the lander and convincing evidence for key entry and descent components on the surface of Mars within the expected landing area of Isidis Planitia, an impact basin close to the equator.

This finding shows that the Entry, Descent and Landing, or EDL, sequence for Beagle 2 worked and the lander did successfully touchdown on Mars on Christmas Day 2003.

"We've been looking for all the past landers with HiRISE, this is the first time we found one that didn't send a signal after it landed," said Alfred McEwen, principal investigator of the HiRISE mission and professor in the UA's Lunar and Planetary Lab. "If the landing sequence works correctly, the probe sends a radio signal, and you can use that to pinpoint where it is coming from, even if it broadcasts only very briefly. But in the case of Beagle 2, we didn't get anything. All we had to go by was the target landing area."

Since the loss of Beagle 2 following its landing timed for Dec. 25, 2003, a search for it has been underway using images taken by the HiRISE camera on the MRO. HiRISE has been taking occasional pictures of the landing site in addition to pursuing its scientific studies of the surface of Mars. The planned landing area for Beagle 2 at the time of launch was approximately 170 x 100 kilometers (105 x 62 miles) within Isidis Planitia. With a fully deployed Beagle 2 being less than a few meters across and a camera image scale of about 0.3 m (10 inches), detection is a very difficult and a painstaking task. The initial detection came from HiRISE images taken on Feb. 28, 2013, and June 29, 2014 (Images ESP_037145_1915 and ESP_030908_1915). Croon had submitted a request through the HiWISH program, which allows anyone to submit suggestions for HiRISE imaging targets.

"He found something that would be a good candidate at the edge of the frame," McEwen said. "But contrast was low in the first image, and it was difficult to convince yourself something special was there."

The team acquired several more images, which showed a bright spot that seemed to move around.

"That was consistent with Beagle 2," McEwen said. "Because its solar panels were arranged in petals, each one would reflect light differently depending on the angles of the sun and MRO, especially if the lander was resting on sloping ground."

The imaging data may be consistent with only a partial deployment of Beagle 2 following landing, which would explain why no signal or data was received from the lander, as full deployment of all solar panels was needed to expose the RF antenna, which would transmit data and receive commands from Earth via orbiting Mars spacecraft.

The HiRISE images reveal only two or three of the motorized solar panels, but that may be due to their favorable tilts for sun glints. According to the UK Space Agency, if some panels failed to deploy, reasons could include obstruction from an airbag remaining in the proximity of the lander due to gas leakage, or a damaged mechanism or structure or broken electrical connection, perhaps due to unexpected shock loads during landing. The scenario of local terrain topology, including rocks blocking the deployment, is considered unlikely given images of the landing area, which show few rocks, but this cannot be ruled out. Further imaging and analysis is planned to narrow the options for what happened. Slope and height derived from the HiRISE images show that Beagle 2 landed on comparable flat terrain with no major hazards.

The discovery benefited from an additional image clean-up step that the HiRISE team has been testing, which removes very subtle electronic noise patterns that have to do with the way the instruments work on the MRO. Sarah Sutton, a HiRISE image processing scientist at LPL who was involved in processing the images that revealed the marooned lander, pointed out that this process is an additional step to make the images "just a little bit clearer."

"We have to be really careful not to modify the science data," said Sutton, who received her bachelor's degree in mathematics from the UA. "We do not make any enhancements or modify the images. All we do is eliminate subtle artifacts from high-frequency electronic noise. The untrained eye would not see it, but I see it.

"When we look at objects that are at the limit of the resolution of HiRISE, like Beagle 2, every bit of image clean-up helps." 

Beagle 2 was part of the ESA Mars Express Mission launched in June 2003. Mars Express is still orbiting Mars and returning scientific data on the planet. Beagle 2 was successfully ejected from ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft on the Dec. 19, 2003 — 5.75 days away from Mars and Mars Express’ engine firing and orbital injection.

Beagle 2 inspired many in the general public and led indirectly to the UK becoming a leading member of ESA’s Aurora program and the UK-led ESA ExoMars mission. This rover will explore Mars in 2019, drilling up to 2 meters (6 feet) beneath the soil to explore the geochemistry and mineralogy of Mars and search for potential evidence of past life.

Animated overlay of HiRISE images showing the Beagle 2 landing site at different times. Lander components show up differently, depending on the angle of sunlight.   Editor: dougcarrollWriter: Daniel StolteByline: Daniel Stolte, University Relations - Communications and UK Space Agency Extra Info: 

Find out more about the discovery process in this video created by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 

Header image: YesNo Image: Subheading: On Christmas Day 2003, a kitchen table-size lander descended onto the surface of the red planet on a mission to study the Martian surface and potential clues for life. The probe never called home, and no one knew what happened to it. Until now. Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noIncludes video: 

UA Receives $2 Million for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 12:19

The Steele Children's Research Center at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson has received a four-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue its Arizona Developmental Disabilities Surveillance Program.

The surveillance program, which has conducted autism spectrum disorders surveillance in Arizona since 2000 as part of the Autism and Developmental Disability Monitoring Network, is part of a multisite effort to track such disorders and also intellectual disabilities among U.S. schoolchildren.

The UA pediatrics team reviews thousands of special education and clinic records each study year to report on the number of 4- and 8-year-old children with autism spectrum disorders and/or intellectual disabilities and on the demographic and behavioral characteristics of the affected children. In study year 2010, the surveillance program reported that approximately one in 64 8-year-olds living in Maricopa County had autism spectrum disorders, an increase from one in 154 children in 2000.   

The study is led by co-principal-investigators Dr. Sydney Pettygrove, an epidemiologist and assistant professor in the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, and Margaret Kurzius-Spencer, an assistant professor in the UA Department of Pediatrics and the Steele Center.
 
"We will continue this intensive effort to monitor the prevalence of ASD and ID among 4- and 8-year-old children," Kurzius-Spencer said. "Our goals are to improve understanding of these disorders and to carry out education and outreach activities, working in tandem with our community partners."

The UA is one of 10 Autism and Developmental Disability Monitoring sites across the country to receive funding in the current grant cycle. The data are collected systematically at these sites and are used by the CDC and others to compare autism spectrum disorders occurrence in different regions, to identify changes in prevalence over time and to improve the understanding of the impact of autism spectrum disorders on the community.

Co-investigators on the project include:

  • Dr. Sydney Rice, an associate professor and developmental pediatrician in the Division of Genetics and Developmental Pediatrics at the Department of Pediatrics and the Steele Center.
  • Jennifer Andrews, coordinator for the Division of Genetics and Developmental Pediatrics at the Department of Pediatrics.
  • Gondy Leroy, an associate professor of management information systems.
  • Paul Hsu, an associate professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. 

Autism spectrum disorders are lifelong developmental disabilities characterized by repetitive or restricted behaviors or interests and marked impairment in social communication and interaction.

These disorders, which begin in early childhood and last throughout a person's life, include autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified and also Asperger disorder.

"Our next study year will be the definitive work on how the change from the DSM-IV to the DSM-5 criteria affects the prevalence of ASD and will allow us to continue to examine disparities in early screening and identification of ASD," Pettygrove said.

Editor: dougcarrollByline Affiliation: Arizona Health Sciences CenterHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: The UA Steele Children’s Research Center has received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue identifying Arizona children who have autism spectrum disorders. Include in UANow: 0Include in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

'Molecular Truck' Could Deliver New Treatment

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 17:42

University of Arizona researchers have developed a novel drug and delivery system to treat inflammation and ulcerations in the colon.

The system, a carrier drug the research team has termed a "molecular truck," shows promise in treating ulcerative colitis, one of the two forms of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD.

The development and testing of the molecular truck was completed by Eugene A. Mash Jr., a professor in the Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryCollege of Science; pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Fayez K. Ghishan, head of the Department of Pediatrics and director of the UA Steele Children’s Research CenterCollege of Medicine – Tucson; and Pawel Kiela, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics and a Steele Center researcher in the area of gastroenterology.

"This drug has the potential to be a major advancement in the treatment of infants and children with ulcerative colitis, who have difficulty taking available medications," Ghishan said.

The study was published in the August 2012 issue of ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters. Now the invention is patent-pending, and the researchers are working closely with Tech Launch Arizona on the intellectual property and commercialization aspects of the technology. The team's work is an example of interdisciplinary research with market potential, fulfilling key objectives of the University's strategic and financial plan, Never Settle.

A modified version of Olestra serves as a molecular truck for delivery of 5-aminosalicylic acid to the colon.

"We need to find investors and funding to establish a company to complete the developmental and pre-clinical work necessary to bring this new drug to the market," Ghishan said. 

IBD is chronic inflammation in the intestinal tract. The two most common forms are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. In ulcerative colitis, the inflammation affects the inner lining of the colon (the mucosa), where painful ulcers may develop. With Crohn’s disease, inflammation may affect the entire digestive tract.

Approximately 1.4 million Americans have IBD, and as many as 70,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year. IBD can occur at any age but is most often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 30. An estimated 50,000 children in the U.S. have IBD, a number that has been increasing in recent years.  Symptoms include severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, fatigue and weight loss. There is no cure, and long-term management can be challenging. 

Aminosalicylates are one of five types of medications used to treat IBD. These compounds contain 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA, mesalamine, mesalazine). Examples are sulfasalazine, balsalazide and olsalazine. These drugs are given either orally or rectally to decrease inflammation. 

Sulfasalazine can cause nausea, heartburn, headache, skin rashes and bone marrow suppression. Although mesalamine, balsalazide and olsalazine have fewer reported side effects, many patients cannot benefit from these drugs because of allergic reactions that cause cramps, abdominal pain and worsened diarrhea.

What’s more, all of the aminosalicylates are available only in large tablet or capsule forms that can be difficult for children to swallow. 

"As is often true in science and medicine, concepts and ideas from one area inspire discoveries in another area," Mash said.

In previous research, Mash had developed a new contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging that selectively damaged tissue in the GI tract. He consulted with Ghishan and Kiela on a new carrier drug design, and they established four objectives:

  • The drug should be administered orally in the form of a suspension, meaning that it can be added to anything liquid or frozen.
  • The drug should deliver a highly concentrated payload directly to the needed areas of the GI tract.
  • The carrier would pass through the GI tract with little or no absorption or breakdown.
  • The drug would have few, if any, side effects. 

"Since our new drug can be delivered in more palatable forms, it has the potential to increase patient compliance and advance IBD treatment for infants and children," Ghishan said. 

"Our next area of research is to focus delivery of the drug to specific regions of the colon damaged by inflammation. This should lower the drug dosage necessary to achieve the desired outcome."

Editor: dougcarrollByline: Darci SlatenByline Affiliation: Arizona Health Sciences CenterHeader image: YesNo Image: Subheading: System developed by UA researchers shows promise in treating ulcerative colitis in infants and children who have difficulty taking available medications.Include in UANow: yesInclude in Olympic Coverage: noFeature on Olympic Page: noUANow Image: Includes video: 

Plunging Into Saturn's Moon

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 15:21

Ten years ago, on Jan. 14, 2005, the first man-made object touched down on an alien world in the outer solar system. To this day, it remains the only one. After a seven-year journey to Saturn, the European probe Huygens detached from NASA's Cassini spacecraft and embarked on a 21-day solo cruise toward Titan, a haze-shrouded moon orbiting Saturn.

Plunging into Titan's atmosphere, the probe survived the hazardous 2 1/2-hour descent to touch down safely on Titan's frozen surface. During descent, a suite of cameras and spectrometers aboard recorded the first detailed images of the moon's surface enshrouded in a thick atmosphere of nitrogen laced with methane and tarlike hydrocarbons.

To highlight the 10th anniversary of the Huygens landing, the European Space Agency has published a movie showing the landing in more detail than ever. Erich Karkoschka, a senior staff scientist in the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, who was a member of the descent imager instrument team during the Cassini/Huygens mission, produced the animation.

"Huygens took about 300 images on the descent," Karkoschka said. "All the image files combined were about two megabytes, less than one image you would take today with your digital point-and-shoot camera. That was the upper limit of data Huygens could uplink to the orbiting Cassini spacecraft, which would then send them to Earth."

Karkoschka said each image had to be compressed to the average size of a plain-text email message to meet the requirement.

"For this animation, I tried to get rid of the compression artifacts as best as possible, and then I arranged the images together in a mosaic. Once that was done, I could make a movie together of what Huygens saw during its descent."

As the probe hurtled toward the moon's surface, dangling from a parachute and snapping pictures, it spun around its axis, completing 10 turns per minute at one time, then slowing down as it approached the frozen surface.

Just before touching down, Huygens rotated very slowly, turning once every minute, all the while scanning the surroundings with electronic eyes arranged in different viewing perspectives. Karkoschka's movie ends showing the probe from an imaginary bird's-eye view, in the actual location where it is today, long after its batteries have drained, a silent visitor sent from a tiny blue world 746 million miles away.  

Video Thumbnail: Category(s): Science and TechnologyYouTube Video:  Huygens Descent Onto Saturn Moon Titan 2005 Video of Huygens Descent Onto Saturn Moon Titan 2005 Feature Sticky: OffFeature on Front: NoMedium Summary: Erich Karkoschka of the UA's Lunar and Planetary Lab created an animation to highlight the 10th anniversary of the first (and only) landing in the outer solar system. Copyright: Erich Karkoschka/University of ArizonaUANow Image: Date of Publication: Wednesday, January 14, 2015Send to Never Settle Site: 0Includes video: 

Mediterranean Diet How-To Guide

Tue, 01/13/2015 - 12:12

The Mediterranean diet is not merely about eating but about healthy living.

Beginning this month, the University of Arizona is hosting a series of events — a reception with celebrity chefs, an international conference, a workshop series and a study-abroad opportunity for students — to explore and share current research associated with the Mediterranean diet.

"We're showcasing the foods and helping people translate dietary recommendations to actual strategies — taking science to the plate — showing people what you can do, how to do it and where to find it," said Melanie Hingle, UA assistant professor of nutritional sciences and public health. 

Based on research and empirical findings advanced by researchers and educators, including Hingle and other faculty from the UA Department of Nutritional Sciences, here is a how-to guide for adopting Mediterranean-style eating habits inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of Greece, southern Italy and Spain.

The Mediterranean diet, explained

The Mediterranean way of eating focuses on fresh and antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits, olive oil, unrefined whole grains, beans and nuts, along with lesser amounts of fish, lean meats and dairy, and the moderate consumption of red wine.

Often called a diet, it is actually a dietary pattern.

The pattern gained international acclaim after research by American scientist Ancel Keys and his wife and collaborator, Margaret Keys. The Keys' research suggested that the diet's low saturated-fat content could help explain the low incidence of cardiovascular disease in cultures around the Mediterranean Sea as compared to other regions.

How to eat Mediterranean

With balance in mind, the Mayo Clinic suggests that those following the Mediterranean diet should:

  • Base every meal on fruits, vegetables, mostly whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes and seeds.
  • Choose unrefined, unprocessed, whole foods.
  • Focus on seasonally fresh and locally grown foods.
  • Eat meats and sweets less often.
  • Limit the consumption of red meat to no more than just a few times monthly.
  • Eat moderate portions of cheese, eggs and yogurt.
  • Eat more fish and seafood (at least twice weekly).
  • Use mostly plant fats, especially olive oil, for cooking and on salads.
  • Enjoy red wine in moderation.

Health benefits abound 

With its focus on a high consumption of plant fats, which come mostly in the form of olive oil, and a relatively low consumption of meats, the Mediterranean diet has been found to confer protection against obesity, an important risk factor for many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Research also indicates that the dietary pattern can reduce the incidence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. 

The dietary pattern has received significant attention in scientific community since the 1990s, particularly after research findings indicated that a diet too heavily reliant upon refined carbohydrates could have negative health effects.

Social and cultural benefits

In addition to the individual health benefits, researchers have found that the Mediterranean diet can aid in regional health.

The diet also has important social and economic implications, as it encourages the support of local agriculture, regional food industry and shared meals.

In 2010, the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage agreed to include the Mediterranean diet on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. UNESCO first recognized Greece, Spain, Italy and Morocco as countries where the dietary pattern maintains an important presence, later recognizing Portugal, Cyprus and Croatia.

Physical activity is an important complement  

Common foods include the flavor and color-blasted likes of white bean stew, baked falafel, vegetable and garlic calzones, grilled salmon, fish served in tomato-olive sauce, barley and roasted tomato risotto and also salads topped with artichokes, cucumber, tomatoes, olives and the ubiquitous feta cheese.

In addition to preventing disease and lowering cholesterol, following a Mediterranean-style diet also has been associated with increased levels of physical activity. Research has not established how these behaviors are linked but suspect that they function together as part of a lifestyle, not just an eating pattern.

Either way, regular physical activity appears to contribute to the observed benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

Credit: Bach-Faig A, Berry EM, Lairon D, Reguant J, Trichopoulou A, Dernini S, Medina FX, Battino M, Belahsen R, Miranda G, Serra-Majem L, Mediterranean Diet Foundation Expert Group: Mediterranean diet pyramid today. Public Health Nutr 2011, 14:2274–2284.

Contact: Melanie Hingle, UA assistant professor of nutritional sciences and public health, 520-621-3087 and hinglem@email.arizona.edu.

Categories: HealthSocial Sciences and EducationThis is a Wildcat Corner feature: Images: Tags: ResearchEducationOutreachFacultyByline: University Relations - Communications |UANow Image: Editor: dougcarrollInclude in UANow: yesDate of Publication: Friday, January 16, 2015Medium Summary: Is it a diet or a dietary pattern? Doesn't matter. It's good for you, and it can reduce risk factors associated with heart disease and cancer. Feature on Front: YesShort Summary: Here's how to adopt the Mediterranean diet. Send to Never Settle Site: 0UA in the News Spotlight: Includes video: 

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