Posts tagged with "disease"

Allison Christensen for use by 360 Magazine

LISTERIA OUTBREAK

If you are a frequent buyer of bagged salad or vegetable greens items, you will want to proceed with caution during consumption for the next few weeks.

Dole Fresh Vegetables announced on December 23, 2021, that there would be a recall of 180 different packaged salads due to probable contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. The recall affects nine different brands, including Dole-branded salads, Ahold, Lidl, Kroger, Little Salad Bar, Marketside, Naturally Better, Nature’s Promise and Simply Nature. 180 products were spread through 25 states in total.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an announcement stating there is an investigation underway to examine the listeria outbreak that connects to two separate packaged salads produced by Dole. Research is ongoing to determine if more products may be affected.

The recall is directly linked to Dole’s Bessemer City, North Carolina, and Yuma, Arizona, production facilities. Listeria monocytogenes were discovered in a Dole-branded Garden Salad package at the site in North Carolina, as well as a package of shredded iceberg lettuce from the Yuma location, via the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Operations at both spots have been halted to ensure cleaning and sanitation procedures are followed through.

Products in the recall lot

  • Packaged products consisting of mixed greens, garden salads, Caesar kits and varying types of salads in bags or clamshells
  • “Best if used by” dates from November 30, 2021, to January 8, 2022
  • Product lot code begins with the letter “N” or “Y” found in the upper-right corner of packages

A full list of recalled products can be found HERE.

To stay safe…

Dispose of recalled packaged salads and follow cleaning procedures to ensure your space is clean.

Call your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms following the consumption of packaged salads:

  • Pregnant individuals encountering fever, fatigue and muscle aches. Listeria can result in pregnancy loss or premature birth, as well as serious illness or death in newborns.
  • Non-pregnant individuals may suffer headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions, paired with fever and muscle aches.
Beach Yoga via Spin PR Group for use by 360 Magazine

Beach Yoga SoCal × LupasLA – Friendsgiving

Beach Yoga SoCal is celebrating Friendsgiving with a month of gratitude offering unique, beachfront wellness experiences throughout the month of November to raise awareness for Lupus LA. The popular Santa Monica wellness studio is offering a Friendsgiving package of “10 shareable classes for $150” through Nov. 30, with 10% of all profit from Friendsgiving sales being donated to Lupus LA, a leading nonprofit health organization dedicated to finding the causes and a cure for Lupus. Perfect for locals and tourists alike, Beach Yoga SoCal provides daily wellness by the water for all levels while supporting a great cause!

Vee Desai Gomez, Founder and Lead Instructor of Beach Yoga SoCal began teaching yoga after being diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune illness five years ago. Vee quickly realized the benefits of yoga and how it helped her cope with her illness. “I am excited to offer our all-levels yoga classes to raise awareness and support Lupus LA, a wonderful organization supporting a cause near and dear to my heart,” says Gomez. Vee is also an Autoimmune Coach, and her coaching program is called Immune Strong Coaching. 

“The therapeutic effect of being by the water improves mental and physical health and has a number of important mental health benefits that help cope with the disease. All of your senses are heightened when you spend time on the beach. Staring at the blue ocean actually changes brain wave frequency, and puts us in a meditative state. The sound of the waves, coupled with the sight of the ocean, activates the parasympathetic nervous system which allows us to relax and be more engaged. The oxygen atoms by the ocean have an extra electron which gives the atom a negative charge. This allows you to breathe deeper and fill your lung capacity resulting in an energy boost. In my classes, I show students how to connect with their environment while bending and moving the body in a functional way.” 

In addition to the “10 classes for $150” Friendsgiving promotion, BYSC will also be offering a full moon ceremony on Nov. 19th which includes intention setting, yoga, and sound bath. Athleta will also be sponsoring the Signature Beach Flow class on Nov. 14 & Nov. 28th at 10:30 a.m. and giving away free swag bags and raffling a $100 gift certificate to attendees (while supplies last).

Beach Yoga SoCal (BYSC) offers 25 classes per week for all levels taught by leading West Coast wellness instructors, with a variety of wellness experiences such as yoga, sound baths, meditations, various sunrise and sunset beach flow sessions, restorative slow flow, and sunset Yoga nidra and savasana. Class prices range from 10 classes for $150 (3 months to use and are shareable with family and friends), $25 drop-in, and unlimited $200 (excludes workshops or events). Members get special invites, discounts, events, health happy hours, and more. 

Beach Yoga SoCal has two locations directly on the beach in Santa Monica, CA. The first is in front of Perry’s Cafe by the water, South of Santa Monica Pier and just North of Lifeguard Tower 26. The second location is North of Santa Monica Pier by Lifeguard Tower 2, in front of the Annenberg Community Beach House. Parking is located at 2600 Barnard Way Santa Monica, CA 90405 for $1/hr, 2 hr Max (lot is on the right). The big lot on the left is all-day parking for $12 per day. Walk towards Perry’s Beach Cafe.

Health via 360 Magazine for use by 360 Magazine

Rice Team Creates New Treatment for Diabetes

Rice University bioengineers are using 3D printing and smart biomaterials to create an insulin-producing implant for Type 1 diabetics.

 

The three-year project is a partnership between the laboratories of Omid Veiseh and Jordan Miller that’s supported by a grant from JDRF, the leading global funder of diabetes research. Veiseh and Miller will use insulin-producing beta cells made from human stem cells to create an implant that senses and regulates blood glucose levels by responding with the correct amount of insulin at a given time.

Veiseh, an assistant professor of bioengineering, has spent more than a decade developing biomaterials that protect implanted cell therapies from the immune system. Miller, an associate professor of bioengineering, has spent more than 15 years researching techniques to 3D print tissues with vasculature, or networks of blood vessels.

“If we really want to recapitulate what the pancreas normally does, we need vasculature,” Veiseh said. “And that’s the purpose of this grant with JDRF. The pancreas naturally has all these blood vessels, and cells are organized in particular ways in the pancreas. Jordan and I want to print in the same orientation that exists in nature.”

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the pancreas to stop producing insulin, the hormone that controls blood-sugar levels. About 1.6 million Americans live with Type 1 diabetes, and more than 100 cases are diagnosed each day. Type 1 diabetes can be managed with insulin injections. But balancing insulin intake with eating, exercise and other activities is difficult. Studies estimate that fewer than one-third of Type 1 diabetics in the U.S. consistently achieve target blood glucose levels.

Veiseh and Miller’s goal is to show their implants can properly regulate blood glucose levels of diabetic mice for at least six months. To do that, they’ll need to give their engineered beta cells the ability to respond to rapid changes in blood sugar levels.

“We must get implanted cells in close proximity to the bloodstream so beta cells can sense and respond quickly to changes in blood glucose,” Miller said. “We’re using a combination of pre-vascularization through advanced 3D bioprinting and host-mediated vascular remodeling to give each implant several shots at host integration.” 

The insulin-producing cells will be protected with a hydrogel formulation developed by Veiseh, who is also a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Scholar. The hydrogel material, which has proven effective for encapsulating cell treatments in bead-sized spheres, has pores small enough to keep the cells inside from being attacked by the immune system but large enough to allow passage of nutrients and life-giving insulin.

“Blood vessels can go inside of them,” Veiseh said of the hydrogel compartments. “At the same time, we have our coating, our small molecules that prevent the body from rejecting the gel. So it should harmonize really well with the body.”

If the implant is too slow to respond to high or low blood sugar levels, the delay can produce a roller coaster-like effect, where insulin levels repeatedly rise and fall to dangerous levels.

“Addressing that delay is a huge problem in this field,” Veiseh said. “When you give the mouse, and ultimately a human, a glucose challenge that mimics eating a meal, how long does it take that information to reach our cells, and how quickly does the insulin come out?”

By incorporating blood vessels in their implant, he and Miller hope to allow their beta-cell tissues to behave in a way that more closely mimics the natural behavior of the pancreas.

health via 360 Magazine for use by 360 Magazine

Brain Tumor Infocon

By: Skyler Johnson

The Brain Tumor Infocon was an event that took place this past week, via Zoom because of the pandemic. The event was not for cancer patients themselves but for those that cared for them. They gave four talks on four separate days, each regarding a different topic. I attended the workshop focusing on children and young adults. All different types of people attended, from parents caring for children to friends caring for friends. But they came for the same reason, to try and gain advice towards dealing with cancer patients. And hopefully they left gaining more information then they had entered with. Here’s what I learned from the event:

Brain Cancer Changes Who a Person is

This must be terrifying to go through, but it does make sense. After all, the brain is where a person’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions are stored, and cancer destroys that. When a person has cancer you have to see them change. There’s not much anyone can do about it, there’s no way to prevent it, but it is something that happens nonetheless. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Say “Cancer”

For a person with cancer, it can be incredibly isolating when their caregiver doesn’t use the actual word. For children, it can be hard to understand what’s wrong with them if they don’t know what they’re going through if they don’t have the actual term to define it. It’s the same with emotions. Caregivers shouldn’t be afraid to show emotions just because they don’t want to upset those they’re caring for. It’s another thing that can make people feel very alone. 

The Question Jar

The presenter recommended a question jar for child patients who may be shy about asking questions regarding their cancer. The caregiver, a parent, would leave the jar in a heavily trafficked part of the house, like a kitchen or living room, and the child can put questions in the jar whenever they’d like. The caregiver would answer their questions periodically, not directly after the child put the concern in. You wouldn’t want them to know you’re keeping track. 

Feel Free to Take Time for Yourself

Having to take care of a cancer patient can be a daunting task, and one thing that was heavily encouraged was having caregivers taking time for themselves. They can’t be there for another person if they can’t be there for themselves. Exercise. Watch TV. Walk the dog. Anything that’ll help calm.

Everyone has a Different Definition of Caring

This is the first lesson I learned, and the most important. The presenter asked the group how they defined caring, which is not something I’d thought about previously. Several of the attendees answered, each in different ways. To some people, caring meant what caring means to most people: helping someone else through their day, making sure they’re content. If I answered the question I might’ve used an anecdote. But for one person it meant “loving and hurting,” which is, I can imagine, the most accurate. Caring can be painful. Caring can be suffering. Because you have to watch them fall apart, and get emotional in front of them, and despite all the advice people may give you, while caregiving will always be loving, it will also be hurting.

Neurological illustration by Heather Skovlund for 360 Magazine

Houston Methodist × Rice University

Houston Methodist, Rice U. launch neuroprosthetic collaboration


Center for Translational Neural Prosthetics and Interfaces to focus on restoring brain function after disease, injury

Neurosurgery’s history of cutting diseases out of the brain is morphing into a future in which implanting technology intothe brain may help restore function, movement, cognition and memory after patients suffer strokes, spinal cord injuries and other neurological disorders. Rice University and Houston Methodist have forged a partnership to launch the Center for Translational Neural Prosthetics and Interfaces, a collaboration that brings together scientists, clinicians, engineers and surgeons to solve clinical problems with neurorobotics.  

“This will be an accelerator for discovery,” said center co-director Dr. Gavin Britz, chair of the Houston Methodist Department of Neurosurgery. “This center will be a human laboratory where all of us — neurosurgeons, neuroengineers, neurobiologists — can work together to solve biomedical problems in the brain and spinal cord. And it’s a collaboration that can finally offer some hope and options for the millions of people worldwide who suffer from brain diseases and injuries.”

Houston Methodist neurosurgeons, seven engineers from the Rice Neuroengineering Initiative and additional physicians and faculty from both institutions form the center’s core team. The center also plans to hire three additional engineers who will have joint appointments at Houston Methodist and Rice. Key focus areas include spinal cord injury, memory and epilepsy studies, and cortical motor/sensation conditions.

“The Rice Neuroengineering Initiative was formed with this type of partnership in mind,” said center co-director Behnaam Aazhang, Rice’s J.S. Abercrombie Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who also directs the neuroengineering initiative, which launched in 2019 to bring together the brightest minds in neuroscience, engineering and related fields to improve lives by restoring and extending the capabilities of the human brain. “Several core members, myself included, have existing collaborations with our colleagues at Houston Methodist in the area of neural prosthetics. The creation of the Center for Translational Neural Prosthetics and Interfaces is an exciting development toward achieving our common goals.”

The physical space for the center’s operation includes more than 25,000 square feet of Rice Neuroengineering Initiative laboratories and experimental spaces in the university’s BioScience Research Collaborative, as well as an extensive build-out underway at Houston Methodist’s West Pavilion location that’s expected to be completed late this year. The Houston Methodist facility will include operating rooms and a human laboratory where ongoing patient/volunteer diagnosis and assessment, device fabrication and testing, and education and training opportunities are planned.

“This partnership is a perfect blend of talent,” said Rice’s Marcia O’Malley, a core member of both the new center and university initiative and the Thomas Michael Panos Family Professor in Mechanical Engineering. “We will be able to design studies to test the efficacy of inventions and therapies and rely on patients and volunteers who want to help us test our ideas. The possibilities are limitless.”

Houston Methodist neurobiologist Philip Horner describes the lab as “a merging of wetware with hardware,” where robotics, computers, electronic arrays and other technology — the hardware — is incorporated into the human brain or spinal cord — the wetware. The centerpiece of this working laboratory is a zero-gravity harness connected to a walking track, with cameras and sensors to record feedback, brain activity and other data.

While the Houston Methodist space is being built, collaborations already are underway between the two institutions, which sit across Main Street from one another in the Texas Medical Center. Among them are the following:

  • O’Malley and Houston Methodist’s Dr. Dimitry Sayenko, assistant professor of neurosurgery, will head the first pilot project involving the merging of two technologies to restore hand function following a spinal cord injury or stroke. O’Malley will pair the upper limb exoskeleton she invented with Sayenko’s noninvasive stimulator designed to wake up the spinal cord. Together, they hope these technologies will help patients achieve a more extensive recovery — and at a faster pace.
  • Rice neuroengineer Lan Luan, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Britz, a neurosurgeon, are collaborating on a study to measure the neurovascular response following a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a life-threatening stroke caused by bleeding just outside the brain. Two-thirds of people who suffer these brain bleeds either die or end up with permanent disabilities. Luan invented very small and flexible electrodes that can be implanted in the brain to measure, record and map its activities. Her work with mice could lead to human brain implants that may help patients recover from traumatic brain injuries caused by disease or accidents.
  • Aazhang, Britz and Taiyun Chi, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice, are collaborating on the detection of mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI) from multimodal observations and on alleviating mTBI using neuromodulations. This project is of particular interest to the Department of Defense.
AC_LatinoCovid by Allison Christensen for 360 Magazine

Antibody Cocktail May Prevent Symptomatic COVID-19 Infections

An antibody cocktail being tested at UVA Health and other sites was able to block 100% of symptomatic COVID-19 infections among people exposed to the virus, early results from the clinical trial suggest.

In addition, those who developed asymptomatic infections accumulated far less virus in their bodies than usual and saw their infections resolve within a week, according to interim data released by the cocktail’s manufacturer, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

“This is the first treatment shown to prevent COVID-19 after a known exposure, and offers protection for unvaccinated individuals caring for a family member with COVID-19,” said UVA Health’s William Petri Jr., MD, PhD, one of the leaders of the trial at UVA. “We expect that Regeneron will file for Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA so that this drug can be used outside of the context of a clinical trial.”

Antibodies for COVID-19

The phase 3 clinical trial aims to determine if the antibodies will prevent COVID-19 infection in people who have been exposed but not yet developed the disease. This is known as “passive immunization.”

Regeneron’s new analysis, which has not yet been published in a scientific journal, looked at outcomes in approximately 400 trial participants. Of 186 people who received the antibodies, none developed symptomatic COVID-19. Of the 223 who received a placebo, eight developed symptomatic COVID-19, the company reports.

Asymptomatic infections occurred in 15 of the antibody recipients and in 23 of the placebo recipients. Overall rates of infection, including both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, were approximately 50% lower in the antibody group.

Among those who developed infections, placebo recipients had, on average, a peak viral load (the amount of virus in the body) that was more than 100 times greater than antibody recipients. The antibody group also recovered more quickly–all the infections resolved within seven days, while 40 percent of infections in the placebo group lasted three to four weeks, Regeneron said.

The cocktail also appears to shorten the duration of viral shedding, the time when the virus is being manufactured in the body. The viral shedding period was nine weeks among antibody recipients and 44 weeks among the placebo recipients. While people with COVID-19 are not infectious for this entire time, reducing the duration of viral shedding may shorten the period when they can spread the disease.

There were more adverse events reported among placebo recipients than among antibody recipients – 18 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Regeneron attributed this to the larger number of COVID-19 infections in the placebo group.

There was one death and one COVID-19-related hospitalization in the placebo group and none in the antibody group. Injection-site reactions were reported among 2 percent of both groups.

“We are profoundly grateful to the nurses and staff of the UVA COVID-19 clinic, led by Dr. Debbie-Anne Shirley,” Petri said. “Their day-to-day support made our participation in this trial possible.”

About the Clinical Trial

Phase 3 clinical trials, such as the one under way at UVA, examine the safety and effectiveness of new drugs and treatments in large numbers of people. Positive results in the phase 3 trial could spur the federal Food and Drug Administration to make the antibody cocktail available for post-exposure COVID-19 prevention.

The antibody cocktail is not a vaccine and is not expected to provide permanent immunity to COVID-19.

The team conducting the study at UVA is led by Petri and Shirley and includes Gregory Madden, MD; Chelsea Marie, PhD; Jennifer Sasson, MD; Jae Shin, MD; Cirle Warren, MD; Clinical Research Coordinator Igor Shumilin; assistant Rebecca Carpenter; and COVID-19 Clinic nurses Michelle Sutton, Elizabeth Brooks, Danielle Donigan, Cynthia Edwards, Jennifer Pinnata, Samantha Simmons and Rebecca Wade.

To keep up with the latest medical research news from UVA, subscribe to the Making of Medicine blog.

Gym Illustration by Rita Azar for 360 Magazine

UVA on Battling Diseases by Exercise

A top exercise researcher and colleagues at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have launched an ambitious effort to understand the whole-body benefits of exercise so that doctors can use that information to prevent and treat disease.

Zhen Yan, PhD, and his collaborators aim to identify the sources, functions and targets of the molecules that provide exercise’s well-documented health benefits. By understanding this, doctors will better understand how exercise helps fend off disease, and they may be able to design drugs to mimic those benefits for people who cannot exercise, such as those with limited mobility. The cutting-edge research could open new doors both for preventing and treating many common illnesses, the researchers hope.

“No one would dispute that physical activity or regular exercise is the best measures for health promotion and disease prevention,” said Yan, director of the Center for Skeletal Muscle Research at UVA’s Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center. “In fact, the health benefits of exercise are way beyond our imagination. The underlying reasons for the superb health benefits of exercise are being uncovered by many talented and passionate scientists around the world.”

Understanding How Exercise Improves Health

The UVA researchers have recently joined a national consortium seeking to create a “molecular map” of exercise benefits. Known as the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium, or MoTrPAC, the group includes researchers at top institutions across the country, including Harvard, Duke, Stanford and Mayo Clinic.

The consortium came about after the National Institutes of Health invited Yan and a dozen other prominent scientists to a roundtable discussion in 2010 about the future of exercise research and the obstacles that stood in its way. The NIH then set aside almost $170 million for MoTrPAC’s research – believed to be the agency’s largest-ever investment into the mechanisms of how physical activity improves health and prevents disease.

“The program’s goal,” Yan explained, “is to study the molecular changes that occur during and after exercise and ultimately to advance the understanding of how physical activity improves and preserves health.”

The consortium is looking at exercise benefits in both humans and animal models. Initial animal research was conducted at Harvard, the University of Iowa and the University of Florida. In the latest round, UVA is joined by the University of Missouri, the University of Kansas Medical Center and the University of California, Los Angeles.

The vast amount of information collected as part of the project so far has poised the UVA team to make “unprecedented” advances, Yan reports. He and his multi-disciplinary team will employ advanced computer algorithms to sift through the heaps of data to identify specific molecules to study. They will then conduct state-of-the-art research in lab mice using gene editing, combined with a wide range of functional assessment, including muscle, cardiac, metabolic and cognitive/mental functions. This will let them determine the effects the molecules have and lay a foundation for doctors to harness the molecules to benefit human health in the future.

Yan’s team will work closely with colleagues at Stanford, who will conduct advanced “multiomics” analyses, meaning they will bring together data on genes, cellular proteins and much more to obtain a more holistic understanding of exercise’s benefits to the body.

UVA’s research team includes Yan, of the Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center and the Departments of Medicine, Pharmacology and Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics; Wenhao Xu, PhD, of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology; Chongzhi Zang, PhD, of UVA’s Center for Public Health Genomics, the Department of Public Health Sciences and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics; Matthew Wolf, MD, PhD, of the Department of Medicine’s Division of Cardiovascular Medicine and the Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center; Thurl Harris, PhD, of the Department of Pharmacology; and Alban Gaultier, PhD, and John Lukens, PhD, both part of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience and the Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG).

“It is well known that exercise is one of the best treatments for mood disorders,” Gaultier said. “We are excited to test the group discoveries using animal models of anxiety and depression.”

“This is an exciting opportunity for team science,” Zang said. “I am happy to work with colleagues at UVA and across the country and use data-science approaches to unravel the complex molecular effects of exercise.”

UVA’s effort has received almost a half-million dollars in backing from the NIH’s fund for MoTrPAC’s research.

“Our research team encompasses exceptional talents. The collective wisdom and expertise of the team at UVA and MoTrPAC will allow us to reach a level that we would not be able to reach by an individual,” Yan said. “It is an unprecedented opportunity in our lifetime to tackle this incredibly important question to mankind.”

To keep up with the latest medical research news from UVA, subscribe to the Making of Medicine blog at http://makingofmedicine.virginia.edu.

MORE: Exercise may help prevent deadly COVID-19 complication.

New Scientific Study by Rice University Biochemists

Michael Stern and James McNew (Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Study: Early, late stages of degenerative diseases are distinct
Two-phase theory applies to diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, muscle atrophy

Rice University biochemists Michael Stern and James McNew have studied how neurodegeneration kills cells. They’ve conducted countless experiments over more than a decade, and they’ve summarized all they’ve learned in a simple diagram they hope may change how doctors perceive and treat degenerative diseases as varied as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and muscle atrophy.

In a study published this month in Molecular Psychiatry, McNew and Stern propose that degeneration, at the cellular level, occurs in two distinct phases that are marked by very different activities of protein signaling pathways that regulate basic cell functions.

“We would like clinicians and other researchers to understand that the two phases of degeneration represent distinct entities, with distinct alterations in signaling pathways that have distinct effects on disease pathology,” said Stern, a professor of biosciences at Rice. “In other words, we think that patients need to be treated differently depending on which phase they are in.”

Stern and McNew’s diagram shows how the activity of key cell-signaling proteins either increases or decreases at the onset of degeneration, ultimately bringing about oxidative stress. Oxidative stress then brings about the second phase of the condition, during which degeneration occurs, where the signaling proteins implicated in the first phase behave in a completely different way.

Because cells behave quite differently in the two phases, the research suggests patients in different phases of a disease may respond differently to the same treatment.

“The two phases of degeneration haven’t been previously recognized, so it hasn’t been understood, clinically, that you have two different populations of patients,” McNew said. “Today, they’re treated like one population, and we think this has confounded clinical trials and explains why some trials on Alzheimer’s have given variable and irreproducible effects. It would be like trying to treat all meningitis patients with antibiotics without realizing that there are two types of meningitis, one bacterial and one viral.”

Stern and McNew, professors of biochemistry and cell biology in Rice’s Department of BioSciences, became interested in the cellular processes of neurodegenerative disorders when they began studying hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP) in the late 2000s. A rare disorder, HSP is marked by numbness and weakness in the legs and feet due to the progressive deterioration of neurons that connect the spine and lower leg.

These are some of the longest cells in the body, and starting with clues about structural defects that could cause them to degenerate, McNew and Stern used experiments on fruit flies to systematically piece together the biochemical domino effect that caused the neurons to progressively lose more and more function and eventually die. It had been thought that nerve damage could lead to muscle atrophy, but their studies found that muscle cells attached to the neurons started degenerating from the same type of biochemical cascade before the nerve cells died.

A key player in the cascade was a protein called TOR, a master regulator of cell growth and an essential protein for all higher-order life from yeast to humans. TOR acts like a knob, dialing growth up or down to suit the conditions a cell is experiencing. In some conditions, high growth is warranted and beneficial, and in other situations, growth needs to be dialed back so energy and resources can be conserved for daily chores, like the recycling or repair that take place during a process known as autophagy.

Some cancers highjack TOR to promote aggressive cell growth, and increased TOR activity has also been implicated in neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and in diseases marked by muscle atrophy. After compiling evidence about how TOR and several other signaling proteins behaved in neurodegeneration, McNew and Stern won a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in 2018 for experiments to investigate signaling pathway changes that occur in the early stages of degeneration.

“At the time, we thought there might be a late phase during which degeneration actually occurs, but we didn’t propose any experiments to test that,” Stern said. “In the new paper, we’re explicit about the existence of a late phase. We propose mechanistically why degeneration occurs only during this phase, and cite abundant research in support.”

Stern said the two-phase process described in the study “is the basic engine that drives most or even all forms of degeneration forward. However, in addition, there are also inputs whose role is to specify how fast the engine turns over.”

To understand neurodegeneration, it’s critical to understand how those inputs work, he said. For example, insulin resistance plays a well-known role in driving Alzheimer’s disease, and in the study, McNew and Stern describe how it does that by accelerating progression through the early phase.

“Similarly, our data suggests that decreases in synaptic transmission, as occurs in our HSP insect model, likewise triggers degeneration by accelerating progression through the early phase,” McNew said. “Our NIH grant was funded so that we could learn the mechanism by which that occurs.”

Now that they clearly understand that two phases of degeneration exist, Stern said he and McNew would like to carry out more experiments to see how the effects of specific genes on degeneration are altered when they are activated in the early and late phases.

“What we would like to do in the last two years of the grant is to obtain data to test some of the predictions we have made, which will help determine if the ideas we have presented are likely to be correct,” Stern said.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (R01-NS102676).

Kaelen Fenix illustration for homelessness in 360 MAGAZINE

Covid-19 Increasing Homelessness

By Eamonn Burke

A study back in May of this year by a Columbia professor found that the unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic could increase homelessness by 45%, following a peak unemployment rate in April of 14.7%. Using data from previous recessions as well as current unemployment trends, Dr. Brendan O’Flaherty estimated that another 250,000 people would become homeless this year, bringing the total number of homeless in the country to 800,000. Across the nation, evidence of this narrative coming to fruition is clear. In West Virginia, there are 10,000 homeless students. 125 homeless people have died this year in San Francisco. Homelessness is increasing in Ohio and Texas, and Residents of Long Island are petitioning for another homeless shelter. This is just some of data to show the trend of widespread homelessness as a result of the coronavirus.

Besides taking the lives of many through infection, the coronavirus has caused a massive recession, like likes of which have not been seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s. As of last month, 22 millions Americans are receiving unemployment payments, coming after one of the best economic stretches in American history.

In addition to unemployment benefits, many people were also protected by the moratorium under the Federal CARES Act, which has since expired, allowing evictions to resume. An Aspen Institute study estimates 30-40 million people could be evicted by the end of 2020. This means even more people out on the streets and more vulnerable to getting COVID, which creates a vicious cycle and creates more pressure on emergency services. Shelters are available but often overcrowded and unsanitary.

There is also the issue of those who are older and who have preexisting conditions, who have been identified as higher risk for COVID-19 and who also are becoming more prevalent among homeless populations. Over 100,000 people over 45 years old were estimated to be living outside on an average night in 2019. Another study showed that around 85% of unsheltered people had physical health issues in 2019. Lastly, a Harvard study revealed that roughly 11 million households spend at least half of their income on housing, making them vulnerable in a recession.

There is also a racial undertone of the homelessness crisis from Covid-19, as black and Latinx people make up a large portion of the population and 58% of black and Latinx people lack the sufficient liquid assets to survive a recession. This can lead to greater racial disparity in an already tumultuous period for race relations in the country.

The CARES act also provided $4 billion in funding, which the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, along with The National Alliance to End Homelessness used to develop a framework for how to use the money to fight homelessness. It focuses on five major points: services for the unsheltered, housing, shelter, prevention and diversion, and improving future systems.

It is expected that the rising homelessness rate with correlate with the projected rising unemployment rate through 2022. The homelessness rate was already rising with overpopulation, and the pandemic is acting as a catalyst for the issue.

Gabrielle Marchan illustrates Dianne Morales for 360 MAGAZINE

Dianne Morales

As of late, one of our team members had the opportunity to sit down with New York City mayoral candidate Dianne Morales for an interview. After eight years under Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City will see someone new in the position in 2021, and Morales, a member of the Democratic Party, is jumping at the opportunity.

360: What are the major points of inspiration throughout your life, so far, that have led you to where you are today?

Morales: At my core is a commitment to community, and I learned community at home. I am the youngest of three girls and the daughter of Puerto Rican parents. My mother, a secretary for the Leather Workers’ Union, and my father, a building manager on the waterfront, created a working-class life for us in Bed-Stuy. But our home was not just for me and my sisters. My grandmother, Mami, lived with us my whole childhood. In fact, she and I shared a bed until the day that I left home for college. Our home was a resting place, a layover, a transition point for whoever needed it. There was always someone new sleeping on the couch or joining us at the dinner table. Whether they had just arrived from Puerto Rico, were in between jobs, had just returned from the military or from being incarcerated, there were always other people staying with us while they “got back on their feet.” My parents opened their arms and their front door to whoever needed it. I never questioned this way of life. I was taught, “If you have, then you provide.” We took care of each other. I saw, firsthand, the opportunity created when we each take responsibility, not just for ourselves, but for our neighbors and for our communities. This belief has spurred me on through 30 years in the public sector, as an educator, a foster care worker and a leader of nonprofits.

As I established my own home in Bed-Stuy as a single mom, my children and I recreated the dynamic my parents had built. We always have a few extra people living in our home – whom we often refer to as our “chosen family.” These extended family members have filled my home with love and reciprocal support. In a twist of fate, since the pandemic hit, I have shared my home with my parents and my children. I envision a New York City where we take care of each other, where everyone is welcome to the dinner table, where neighbors provide more support than extra sugar and all of us have a warm place to rest our heads. Although NYC is vast with diversity, we are all inextricably bound together and are only as strong as our most vulnerable link.

360: How can a mayor, as opposed to any other civic official, lead unique positive changes for equity?

Morales: Over the past several months there is a mantra I have been repeating consistently: a budget is a reflection of our values. The mayor has executive power over what gets funded in the city and by how much. Funding for services that contribute to true public safety (access to housing, medical/mental healthcare, economic stability, job training, education) will provide access and opportunity to those who have historically been left behind by our elected officials. Line by line, the budget reveals the values of a city and government. The NYC budget passed in June was a failure. It failed the residents of NYC, who have been raising their voices in protest and demanding a divestment from law enforcement since May 29. It failed those whose lives have been lost at the hands of the NYPD. It failed communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by violence and brutality.

The budget highlights the need for NYC leadership to put New Yorkers first by investing in communities. The NYC Mayor also has the ability to work to desegregate public schools and impact the quality of education provided to over 1.1 million students, many of whom are students of color living in poverty. This alters the course of a student’s life and provides an entry point to economic mobility and a true career trajectory. New Yorkers deserve a bold, transformational leader who is unapologetically committed to prioritizing justice in the budget’s bottom line. I fundamentally believe that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution. Our city needs a mayor that is in tune with her people and provides a vision for and direction for what is possible.

360: What are some of the most pressing or urgent issues that need attention within New York City, and how would you address them?

Morales: New York’s problems all stem from structural oppression by Race, Gender and Class, so our solutions must go deeper, all the way to the root causes. Too many New Yorkers are living in a time of scarcity, and that’s been going on since long before the virus hit. The are working two jobs, just barely surviving and always one misfortune away from losing everything. Instead of this “Scarcity Economy,” we need a “Solidarity Economy,” and that requires bold action. First, transforming public safety in the city by providing access to the same critical resources found in wealthy communities will be a critical step toward creating the long-term change we need for all to live in dignity. True public safety includes ensuring that every New Yorker has access to “life essentials,” like quality transportation, affordable housing, excellent and equal education and human-centered healthcare. All New Yorkers deserve access to these fundamental resources in order to live in dignity, and it is the necessary floor needed to break through glass ceilings.

Next, we must enhance and overhaul vital infrastructure requiring multi-part, creative solutions that address the deeper issues embedded in the fabric of NYC. To break the racist cycle of poverty that divides our city into the “haves” and the “have-nots,” we will establish a guaranteed minimum income. We will push for universal healthcare and eliminate inequities in the health system faced by women, and especially women of color. We will work to address the persistent segregation of our schools and disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by replacing school safety officers with trained mental health professionals. The driving force behind all policy initiatives is the experiences, needs and voices of women of color. Particularly, Black women. As the Combahee River Collective wisely wrote in its 1977 statement, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” We know that if New York does right by Black women, the entire city will be better for it.

360: How can you use your personal experiences with serving as a single mother and observing the many other challenges that face New York City residents to enact policy reform?

Morales: So many of New York’s problems have impacted me directly, and so much of who I am and what I know comes from being a mom. My greatest joy is being the mother of my two children, Ben and Gabby. They constantly push me, teach me and nourish me. As a single parent, I share experiences with hundreds of thousands of other New Yorkers. A 2018 study found that single-parent households are the second largest household type in New York City. I navigated New York City’s systems – economic, health and education – on my own. I balanced a budget for my family each month, figuring out how to make it work. My greatest challenge was parenting my children through the NYC education system. The rigid and unforgiving education that my children received did not allow any space for their learning differences. They did not see themselves in the white-centric curriculum and we struggled to find support during their developmental years. Advocating for my children was a full-time job on top of my paying-full-time-job. Again and again I have stood with parents for a more equitable and life-affirming education for our kids. It is with this same community spirit of coalition building, advocacy and bettering of our social safety nets that I will push for policies that support all types of families in NYC.

360: What is one of the most significant components of your background or experiential knowledge that separates you from any other candidate?

Morales: I am, in so many ways, the average New Yorker. I was born and bred in Bed-Stuy. I am an Afro Latina single-mom of two children who survived the New York City public school system. I am a first generation college graduate who came back home to my city after school. I am a woman of color who discovered that I was not being paid the same as my white male counterparts. I’ve watched my neighborhood change, I’ve seen Starbucks replace the corner bodega, and I have spent my weekends marching side by side – 6 feet apart – with my fellow New Yorkers demanding justice for those killed at the hands of a racist policing system. Because I am the average New Yorker, my voice reflects the voices of thousands of others. We share our lived experiences, frustrations and joys. I love New York City because I see our full potential for all of us.

360: How does your previous extensive work with social service nonprofits inform your motivations and goals to serve as Mayor?

Morales: For decades, I worked within the community to address structural inequities burdening communities of color. I worked alongside those experiencing the symptoms of our broken system most acutely – poverty, lack of access to education, homelessness and mental health services. I witnessed firsthand the day-to-day struggles of New Yorkers that are perpetuated by cycles of poverty and oppression. I worked from the ground, up and from the inside, out. But as I hammered away, I recognized these structural and institutional barriers, and began to ask, “So how do we burn them down?” It felt as though I was only tinkering around the edges of the problem and providing Band-Aid solutions to deep, deep wounds. The core, perpetuating issues were centralized and foundational. I realized that if I want to create lasting, effective change, I must address these systemic and political problems at the root. As Mayor, I would carry with me the voices of those I have served.

360: In outlining your points of action and reform for New York City, how does the COVID-19 pandemic affect any of these potential strides for change?

Morales: As we know, COVID-19 is a catastrophe that illuminates all of the cracks and splinters in our broken systems. At first, many claimed the COVID-19 was a “great equalizer,” affecting all people, regardless of race, class or gender. Instead COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people of color and low-income communities. This is not a coincidence or personal failing, but rather the direct result of racist systems, putting structural oppression in stark relief. While some New Yorkers are able to escape crowded areas, arm themselves with personal protective equipment and work remotely, others, namely people of color, are on the front lines providing essential services to our city.

As COVID-19 has had devastating consequences that will leave a lasting impact for years to come, it has also provided us with a unique moment. As we saw after the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, being homebound and isolated forces us to pay attention. We have paused. We have slowed down. With fewer distractions and a center of focus, folks all across the country have had the veil lifted. People are noticing the interconnected webs of oppression I have lived with and that I have been fighting to dismantle my entire life. In this moment, we need leaders in office who are of, by and for the movement for social change. There is a momentum and hunger for justice that can no longer be ignored. As we overcome the challenge of the disease, I will never let the city forget who is truly essential. Together we will create a world in which front-line workers are truly valued as indispensable. A world where we accompany our applause and platitudes with a livable wage, unquestionable dignity and real community power.

360: What are some of the most rewarding takeaways you have gained from leading several momentous organizations?

Morales: I’ve learned firsthand about the barriers and challenges that people have to overcome in order to gain access to opportunities that are alleged to be available to everyone. I also have watched as community members care for one another to bridge the gaps in access to those opportunities. This is testament to the power of our communities to be true partners in determining the solutions they face when given the resources to do so. Finally, I have been able to bear witness to what is possible when people finally gain access and opportunity and how that has the potential to change the trajectory of people’s lives and transform families and communities.

360: Regarding the national and global movement, Black Lives Matter, how will you utilize your unique identity to empower minorities in the City of New York?

Morales: Like many people of color, I have lived years of my life trying not to take up space. I have seen the ways that my identities – my Blackness, my Latina roots, my politics, my womanhood – make people, namely white people, uncomfortable. In these spaces I would constantly ask myself, “Do I seem too opinionated, too articulate, too aggressive?” I would contort and deflate myself to fit into tight corners and small boxes. I would shrink myself so that others could feel big. When making the decision to run for Mayor of NYC, I decided it was important for me to run as my full, unadulterated, unapologetic, multi-hyphenated self. There would be no more shrinking, questioning or self-doubt. I recognize that by the very nature of stepping into this space, I am opening up a path of possibility. As the first Afro-Latina running for mayor of New York City, I recognize the awesome responsibility I hold. I know that when I speak, unfairly or not, I am representing all Afro-Latina women. Missteps become mass stereotypes. Accolades become communal achievements.

This is both beautiful and deeply terrifying. But in moments of fear, I am guided by a greater purpose to bring with me those whom have been devalued and made to feel small, as I have been; to elevate the voices of those with shared experiences and claim our rightful place in democracy and representation in leadership. People like me, individuals and communities of color, women of color, we must be at the forefront of our politics and policies. I am deeply committed to divesting from racist systems and investing in Black and Brown communities. I am committed to reimagining public safety on our streets and in our schools. I am committed to shifting wealth opportunities to those who have been historically marginalized. I am committed to redressing and repairing the wounds of oppression that scar our city. I am in this race to stand taller in the face of a world that tells me to shrink. I am here to tell them that Black lives are beloved. We matter today and every day forward.

360: To all of the NYC citizens following your efforts to better numerous communities, what are some of the best ways individuals can support your campaign?

Morales: The best way to help me is to join the campaign with a small contribution. I am not a career politician, and unlike other candidates, I have not spent decades cultivating a war chest of people, networks and resources to kickstart my run for mayor. I want to be responsive to the people, not the special interests.. My campaign was born out of my home in Bed-Stuy, out of conversations with my neighbors, friends and colleagues. Our campaign is 100% powered by the people, not the 1%. We are an intersectional coalition of Black and Brown, Latinx, LGBTQIA and working class New Yorkers. We are backed by the people being hit the hardest at this moment in time. I am so incredibly humbled that in the middle of a pandemic, without employment, people are finding a way to donate to our campaign. I know what is at stake and the choices they have had to make to do so. If donating to our campaign is not possible for you during this financially uncertain time, we understand. Visit my website, dianne.nyc, for information and volunteer opportunities. Spread our mission to your fellow New Yorkers. Reach out to join our team. Remember me in November 2021.

To learn more about Dianne Morales, you can click right here. To learn more about her stances and solutions, you can click right here. To support Morales through donations, you can click right here. You can also support her on Twitter and Instagram.