Unlocking the Mysteries of the Brain Through Stem Cell Research

Inside a lab at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, researchers are doing something truly remarkable. They are growing tiny versions of developing human brains in order to study everything from Alzheimer’s disease to the Zika virus. Alysson Muotri is the co-director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program and leads the team researching brain organoids. He recently sat down with Dr. David Granet on Health Matters to discuss the endless possibilities of his research.

Muotri’s organoids are often referred to as “mini-brains,” but they are far from what that name might suggest. The organoids are grown from stem cells, which are harvested from living tissue, such as skin cells. Researchers give those stem cells instructions to become neural cells. Eventually they form tiny clusters of neural cells, about the size of a pea. Those clusters have been shown to exhibit some of the same characteristics of developing human brains, including firing electrical signals in specific patterns. But, the organoids do not contain every type of brain tissue, and have no vascularization.

Despite the differences with the human brain, organoids have proven useful in understanding and treating disease. One of the major successes of Muotri’s research was finding and testing an existing drug to treat mothers infected with Zika virus. The drug can prevent the disease from being passed to the baby and causing microcephaly. Muotri is hoping his lab will continue to have success using the organoids as an effective brain model to find more cures, and provide a deeper understanding of brain development and disease. And, his work isn’t limited to Earth. Muotri recently launched his organoids into space for a groundbreaking study.

Watch — Using Stem Cells to Research the Brain – Health Matters

The Future of our Oceans

Ours is a water planet. Technology is shaping our uses, both as foe and ally. It has made humans the dominant predator and provides us food, gives us half the oxygen we breathe and created many maritime jobs. But technology has also raised CO2 levels, caused acidic oceans, threatened ocean biodiversity and created grand climate challenges.

Marine biologists like Doug McCauley at UC Santa Barbara are also using technology to promote ocean health and provide a balance. In this talk, McCauley describes examples of technology used to help the oceans and marine biodiversity. He shows systems that track whale activity and communicate it to ships so they know where to slow down to avoid collisions. He describes technology to monitor marine protected areas, image recognition techniques to study the endangered giant sea bass and electronic tags to follow sharks.

McCauley began his career as a fisherman in the Port of Los Angeles. Eventually he migrated to marine science and UC Santa Barbara. McCauley has degrees in political science and biology from the UC Berkeley. His PhD research was done at Stanford University where he studied the ecology of sharks, giant parrotfish, and coral reef ecosystems. McCauley’s science is motivated by the belief that we must better understand how complex ocean ecosystems work if we want to better protect them from threats like overfishing, climate change, and pollution.

Watch — Technology: Friend or Foe for the Future of our Oceans

Bone Health: Beyond Supplements

“This is what I learned when I thought I knew everything already about healthy eating and living,” says Vicky Newman, MS, RDN. Her informative talk goes beyond the basics of calcium intake for bone health to highlight the importance of a healthy diet combined with physical activity. Learn about the exercises that increase weight bearing and strength in addition to activities to improve your balance. Get insights into what a bone-healthy diet looks like and how to work with your doctor to minimize medications that could be taking a toll on your bones.

“Boosting Bone Health to Prevent Injury and Speed Healing” marks the 2019 return of the Stein Institute for Research on Aging lecture series to UCTV. For more with Vicky Newman, and to view the complete archive of lectures, visit https://uctv.tv/stein/.

Watch — Boosting Bone Health to Prevent Injury and Speed Healing – Research on Aging

The Dr. Seuss You Never Knew

The 2019 edition of UC San Diego Geisel Library’s “Dinner in the Library” series celebrates new acquisitions from the estate of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, most of which have never before been exhibited publicly. The Library’s Special Collections already houses over 20,000 items related to Geisel, including sketches, paintings, cartoons, letters, and manuscripts, and these new arrivals will further enhance its status as the world’s premiere repository of Seuss miscellany.

University Librarian Erik Mitchell welcomes a distinguished panel to discuss their reactions to the unveiling of Geisel’s “private art.” Seth Lerer, moderator and Distinguished Professor of Literature at UC San Diego, traces the development of Geisel’s stylistic vocabulary though doodles and rough sketches not intended for publication, and invites fellow panelists and the audience to consider the proper placement of these works within Geisel’s larger oeuvre. Rob Sidner, Executive Director of the Mingei International Museum, notes that many of the new acquisitions were exhibited in Geisel’s home and speculates on their personal significance to the artist. Mary Beebe, Director of the Stuart Collection at UC San Diego, discusses Geisel’s acrylic paintings on display, noting they are uncharacteristic of Geisel and yet valuable for that reason. Beebe also cites Geisel’s delight in wordplay as a consistent feature of his work.

Other topics featured in this wide-ranging discussion include the challenges of exposure to a hitherto-unknown facet of an artist’s work, influences on Geisel’s development such as theatre and Surrealism (most notably Salvador Dali), the underlying social commentary in many of Geisel’s cartoons and books, his frequent portrayals of “sympathetic monsters,” and the importance of acknowledging that, in Seth Lerer’s words, “not everything in this collection is happy or funny; some of it is in fact quite dark.”

Theodor Geisel famously maintained that he wrote his books for adults, and that their adoption as beloved icons of children’s literature was a fortunate happenstance. The new additions to the Geisel Library’s Special Collections contribute to a fuller portrait of this complex and prolific artist, one possessed of considerable skills whose range of styles and thematic concerns is greater than previously appreciated.

Watch — The Private Art of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel – Dinner in the Library 2019

Spotting the Warning Signs of Kawasaki Disease

It is one of the most common causes of acquired heart disease in pediatrics, yet very little is known about Kawasaki Disease. It was discovered by Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki in Japan in the 1960s. It has since been documented around the world, including a spike in cases in San Diego earlier this year. Yet, the cause of Kawasaki Disease remains a mystery.

Dr. Jane Burns is the director of the UC San Diego Kawasaki Disease Research Center, and one of the leading experts on the disease. She sat down to discuss her research, and what parents need to know about Kawasaki Disease with Dr. David Granet on Health Matters. She says because it starts off with a sudden high fever, Kawasaki Disease can often be misdiagnosed as a common virus. But, parents can easily spot the telltale symptoms in the following days: bloodshot eyes, bright red mouth and lips, swollen and red hands and feet, and body rash.

When untreated, one in four children with Kawasaki Disease will develop permanent, potentially fatal heart disease. Those complications can usually be avoided with proper treatment, but it’s expensive and out of reach for millions of children around the world. That’s why Dr. Burns and her team continue to investigate the mysterious disease.

Watch — Understanding Kawasaki Disease – Health Matters