Session 2 – Abstracts

BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE II

Neural Stem Cell Transplants as a Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

Laura McIntyre
Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
mcintyrl@uci.edu

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease for which there is currently no cure. In MS, damage to the myelin surrounding nerve cells in the central nervous system (CNS) interrupts nerve signals. MS occurs when immune cells known as T cells, which are typically responsible for killing viruses and bacteria, become confused attacking myelin. All current therapies all focus on restricting inflammatory immune cell responses. However, they are ineffective at repairing myelin once damage has already occurred.  Therefore, our lab is using a regenerative approach to treat MS, transplanting Neural Stem Cells (NSCs) into the spinal cord. NSCs have the ability to replace the cell types damaged in MS and regulate inflammatory immune responses. Transplantation human NSCs into a mouse model of MS results in death of human NSCs, however we observed remyelination in the spinal cord and a decrease in inflammatory T cells. These results suggest human NSCs decrease inflammatory immune responses and help facilitate mouse cells to repair myelin. Understanding how this repair occurs will help us to develop better therapies for MS using the patient’s own CNS and immune cells to repair myelin.


Shifting keystones: changes in predator-prey relationships along a thermal gradient

Piper Wallingford
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
piper.wallingford@uci.edu

In intertidal communities, environmental stress and biological interactions are important drivers of community composition. While climate change will directly alter levels of environmental stress, indirect effects as a result of changes in species interactions are also likely to affect these communities. In this study, we analyzed the effects of predation and temperature on intertidal species’ distributions. We surveyed foundation species’ vertical extents (minimum, maximum, and range) and prey and predator densities at 14 sites spanning a thermal gradient along the West Coast of the United States. We analyzed the effects of temperature on foundation species and keystone predator distribution patterns, as well as the effect of predation on foundation species and mesopredators. We found that temperature had a significant effect on the spatial overlap between foundation species and mesopredators, with this relationship most apparent in the mid intertidal. Our study suggests that climate change could increase spatial mismatch between important predator and prey populations, which would dramatically alter community composition and diversity.


Frog Olympics: Jumping off unsteady diving boards

Crystal Reynaga
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
reynagac@uci.edu

When running on sand or jumping off a springy trampoline we automatically change the way we move and the way we use our muscles to match the mechanical properties of the substrate without even thinking about it. How do our muscles sense and respond to an unpredictable surface to allow us to remain stable as we move while minimizing the amount of energy we use? I use the Cuban tree frog as a model organism to understand how the neuromuscular system responds to different substrates. We designed a software-controlled diving board that allows us to modulate the springiness and quantify the optimal strategies used to interact with the physical properties of the substrate. Our results inform design parameters for new prosthetics that are stable on different surfaces, and for biologically inspired robots that can more effectively traverse uneven terrains.


Kappa-Opioid Receptors Affect Chronic Pain Perception and Treatment

Shiwei (Steve) Liu
Pharmacology
shiweil1@uci.edu

Chronic pain affects 1.5 billion people worldwide. The annual economic impact of chronic pain exceeds $600 billion in the US alone. Chronic pain is associated with mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, making it the second leading cause of suicide in the US. Common chronic pain treatments involve mu-opioid receptor (MOR) drugs such as morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone to alleviate physical pain; however, they are inadequate in addressing the emotional mood component of chronic pain, which is the primary indicator of patient quality of life. These drugs are also highly addictive and prone to misuse.
I propose an alternative treatment that involves the kappa-opioid receptor (KOR). This receptor is known to regulate mood and reward pathways in the brain. My research has shown that KOR is highly activated in mice with chronic pain, which results in their anxiety and depressive-like behaviors. I found that pharmacologically inhibiting KOR alleviated these mood disorders and also affected the reward properties of MOR-targeting compounds. These novel findings provide insight to developing comprehensive non-addictive chronic pain therapeutics that can also treat mood disorders.


Apoptotic bodies against autoimmunity diseases

Reza Mohammadi
Materials Science & Engineering/Stem Cell Research Center
rezamoha@uci.edu

Development of autoimmunity leads to devastating diseases such as multiple sclerosis, allergy,
transplant rejection, and immune responses against protein therapeutics. Current therapies include monoclonal antibodies to eliminate certain undesired lymphocytes, and chemical drugs that target the immune activation pathways. However, these strategies mainly lack efficiency in the wake of their non-specificity, giving rise to serious side effects such as tissue toxicity and elevated levels of sensitivity to cancer and infection. To this end, a targeted and specific therapy is of crucial importance to fight against autoimmunity diseases. In the present study, we show that multivesicular moieties released by mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) during their apoptosis possess significant anti-inflammatory effect through stimulating the release of transforming growth factor B. This demonstrates the immuno-modulatory effect of so-called apoptotic bodies suggests them as promising candidates against autoimmunity diseases. Further engineering these apoptotic bodies to gain superior anti-inflammatory characteristics could pave the way towards a complete treatment against autoimmunity diseases.


Modeling blood-brain barrier breakdown in Alzheimer’s Disease using patient stem cells

Tannaz Faal
Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
tfaal@uci.edu

Every sixty-six seconds an individual in the United States develops Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). It is an incurable disorder of the brain that robs individuals of their memories and also leads to cognitive impairments such as difficulty in speech and writing. Dysfunction of a structure called the blood-brain barrier (BBB) has been implicated in the progression of AD. The BBB protects and regulates the health of our central nervous system through the interaction of three cell types called endothelial cells, pericytes, and astrocytes. These three cells form a network of blood vessels that regulate the flow of substances into and out of the brain. A hallmark of AD is the inability of the BBB to remove a toxic molecule called amyloid beta (AB) from the brain. Accumulation of AB plaques leads to neuron death and cognitive decline. The primary focus of my work is to create a model of the BBB in a dish to understand the role of the three cell types in the removal of AB in Alzheimer’s Disease. This model will allow us to study this disease in a patient-specific manner and it will serve as a platform for future drug screening to identify compounds to prevent or slow BBB breakdown in AD.


Developing an In Vitro Model to Test Individualized Efficacy of Medications for Age-related Macular Degeneration Patients

Rami Gabriel
School of Medicine
ramisg@uci.edu

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a major cause of blindness worldwide. The current gold standard for treating AMD is recurring treatments with anti-Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor(VEGF) drugs. These drugs are used successfully clinically, however, it is well-known in the medicine that not all patients respond the same to treatment and the eye is no exception.
Studies show that patients can be “poor responders” to certain anti-VEGF’s or can take longer than others to show signs of improvement. This poses a challenge to retinal physicians as to which medication to administer and when to switch to a different medication. A process that can often take several months to figure out.
In order to have better and faster therapeutic outcomes for patients, the following experiment will be done: PBMC’s from blood will be isolated using Ficoll separation and then plated. After treatment with various anti-VEGF’s, the cells will then be assessed for VEGF expression by Polymerase Chain Reaction. The literature supports that expression levels will parallel clinical outcomes. If this objective is met, the experiment could be turned into a test that is regularly done for AMD patients.

 

EDUCATION

Thinking Outside the Box of Learning Disability Deficits

Masha R. Jones
Education
m.jones@uci.edu

Children with learning disabilities face real struggles, but they also have unique strengths. While it’s important to develop supports for their struggles, we must also think about where their strengths lie, so that these can be harnessed and enhanced. This is important, because focusing on a child’s relative weakness, rather than strength, will over time erode the child’s confidence, sense of self-esteem and, perhaps, even that child’s overall happiness. In this talk I draw from theories of cognitive functions in learning disabilities and theories of cognition and creativity to suggest that children with learning disabilities may have a unique ability to think outside the box.


Can Machine Learning Help Predict Working Memory Training Gains?

Shafee Mohammed
School of Education
shafeem@uci.edu

Working memory (WM) capacity is critically important for the success in school and complex cognitive activities across the lifespan. Training WM skills has shown to lead to improvements in a variety of important cognitive tasks. One’s performance on an adaptive and challenging longitudinal WM intervention may serve as an assay of cognitive plasticity. With over 400 participants having completed a minimum of 15 sessions of WM training, we have a rich dataset that allows investigating individual differences and other factors that might determine training outcome using machine learning techniques. Results suggest that factors such as age, n-back type, and baseline abilities significantly impact one’s ability to improve in training. Other factors such as gender and whether or not training was supervised were not significant. Finally, our model allows prediction of training gain with 78% accuracy.


Unintended Consequences: Do the Efforts to Reduce Suspension Harm Learning Environments?

NaYoung Hwang
School of Education
nyhwang@uci.edu

In recent years, suspension rates across schools have declined in the U.S. To what extent, can reducing suspension rate serve as a potential remedy for educational inequality? In this study, I investigate whether and to what extent reducing suspension rates affect learning of non-suspended classmates. My analysis provides evidence that suspension can enhance the achievement of non-suspended classmates. I used a student fixed effects approach to investigate whether a higher classroom suspension rate is associated with achievement of non-suspended students. In contrast to the findings of prior studies (Rausch & Skiba, 2004; Perry & Morris, 2014), my results suggest that suspensions may have a positive effect on educational achievement for non-suspended classmates. Moreover, the positive effects of in-school suspension on the math and ELA achievement of non-suspended classmates are particularly pronounced for low-achieving non-suspended students. The results suggest that simply reducing suspension rates may damage the educational achievement for academically struggling non-suspended classmates.


Battle to Belong: Keeping our Underrepresented Students in STEM

Peter McPartlan
School of Education
pmcpartl@uci.edu

Of UCI’s freshman Bio majors last year, first generation students accounted for a disproportionate 75% of those who dropped out. Although traditional explanations for this have blamed a lack of preparation in high school, recent studies have shown that underrepresented students often experience an acute lack of belongingness when they step onto campus and into STEM disciplines. Often, the interdependent and community-based values these students are raised with clash with the culture of independence and the sink-or-swim mindset found in STEM disciplines. To address this, our research is testing interventions specifically aimed at helping retain first generation students in the sciences by promoting their sense of belonging. By enrolling students in learning communities that keep groups of students together for their entire first year, we can assess the effectiveness of a simple program that allows for social support networks to develop around academic pursuits. Additionally, we are tracking those who decide to leave to non-STEM disciplines, investigating the role of belongingness in these decisions. Ultimately, this will boost the program’s ability to provide equitable education.


English Language Learners in Higher Education: Perspectives, Challenges, and Strategies

Christopher Stillwell
School of Education
cstillwe@uci.edu

In STEM courses in higher education, challenging content and low rates of student persistence across all demographics have led many educators to employ active learning approaches as a means of helping students engage and understand. There is reason to believe the benefits of such pedagogical approaches may be dependent on cultural background, as English language learners (ELLs) from traditional educational backgrounds may prefer teacher-centered, banking approaches to education, and may fear loss of face during interaction with peers (perhaps particularly in interactions with native English speaker peers). Though active learning techniques hold great promise, research is necessary to determine in what ways and to what extent ELLs may be advantaged or disadvantaged by their use. Drawing from extensive data from a large entry-level Biology course, the presenter will share findings regarding the way this population responds to the use of such techniques.

 

SOCIAL SCIENCES, HUMANITIES, AND ARTS

Modeling the Social Practice of Promising

Steven Norris
Philosophy
scnorris@uci.edu

The majority of the philosophical literature on promising focuses on the question of what grounds the moral obligations generated by promises.  Simply put, these questions ask why it is wrong to break promises.  The standard analysis suggests we can neither make reflexive nor immoral promises.  The former seems unintuitive, while the latter fails to explain a common social phenomenon.  Additionally, little attention is paid to questions pertaining to the social practice of promising itself.  Why does the practice exist in our society?  What human interest does it serve?  I propose an answer these questions by drawing on recent work in modeling social phenomena and develop a promissory schema that characterizes the practice of promising.  This schema, phrased in terms of assurance, also serves as a generalized grounding fact for social facts about promising.  The result is a method of analysis that explains how we can make reflexive and immoral promises, as well as why we consider some remarks and actions to constitute promises despite the lack of an utterance of “I promise…”


Imagining Felons and Families: Anti-Blackness and Immigrant Criminalization Narratives

Elizabeth Clark Rubio
Program in Public Health
ehclark@uci.edu

The Obama administration employed the term “Felons not Families” to characterize the logic of its immigration enforcement operations. The way that the political subjectivities of “felons” and “families” have been constructed throughout U.S. history is anything but racially arbitrary. Conflating criminality with blackness and familiarity with white heteronormativity has been so fundamental to the formation of the modern U.S. state that one cannot imagine “felons” and “families” without imagining blackness and whiteness. “Felons not families” thus establishes a hierarchy of immigrant deservingness that rewards disassociation with anti-black tropes and proximity to whiteness.  Some activists critique the narrative, yet many rely on arguments that reify the supposed infallibility of law enforcement as well as the notion that the “family” is a universally recognizable subject. While such critiques are important, they must be crafted in ways that avoid complicity with anti-blackness. I argue that recognizing how non-black immigrants both rely upon and benefit from the deployment of anti-black tropes in asserting national belonging will allow for a more visionary immigrant rights agenda.


What Makes a Good Father?: Young Father’s Perspectives about Parenting from Jail

Britni Adams
Sociology
bladams@uci.edu

Consequences of mass incarceration are widespread and highlight various inequalities in America. However, research, in investigating child outcomes from incarceration, has missed the importance of how incarcerated men understand parenting and the types of relationships men have with their children. Much of the research about families and incarceration focuses on fathers in prison, which is vastly different from the experience in a county jail. This paper uses 44 interviews with fathers in Southern California jails, ages 19-26, ranging from 2-5 hours, to explore how these men understand parenting before and during their incarceration period. Preliminary analyses reveal cursory understandings of parenting, citing responsibilities of making money, providing food, and being physically available or present for children. They draw on traditional notions of gender roles talking about teaching boys to be men, and providing financial support for mother and child. This paper elucidates the disconnect between what these fathers expect of parenting, and what society expects of them, to curtail the stigma associated with these men as fathers and facilitate family stability.


Religious People Forecast but Do Not Experience Less Unhappiness Following a Negative Outcome

Steven Carlson
Psychology and Social Behavior
sjcarlso@uci.edu

People who are more religious often report greater subjective wellbeing when coping with negative events. This association may reflect their actual emotional experience or it may be influenced by their beliefs about how they will or should feel. The present research contributes to understanding the links between religion and wellbeing by assessing (a) people’s beliefs about their typical emotional experience (e.g., forecast emotion), and (b) people’s feelings about a specific negative event. Undergraduates (N = 407) predicted their feelings about receiving a higher or lower exam grade than expected. Among those who later received a lower grade than expected (N = 238), greater religiosity was associated with forecasts of feeling less intensely unhappy, r(235) = -.17, p = .01, and less frequently unhappy, r(232) = -.15, p = .02, about their exam grade. However, greater religiosity was not associated with differences in experienced feelings (all p > .05). These findings raise the question of whether forecasts of less unhappiness for negative events are beneficial or harmful.


Irvine’s Activist Past: The “Municipal Foreign Policy Movement” of the 1980s

Ben Leffel
Sociology
benjamin.leffel@gmail.com

“Irvine’s Leadership in the Municipal Foreign Policy Movement of the 1980s”:  Irvine’s historical involvement in the “municipal foreign policy movement” of the 1980s was nearly forgotten,  until Sociology Ph.D. student Ben Leffel and former Irvine Mayor Larry Agran digitized new records of the movement.  The former Center for Innovative Diplomacy (CID) was led by former Mayor Agran, which reported on and mobilized thousands of U.S. local government officials to fight Apartheid and the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, as well as establish the largest global environmental network of cities in the world.  CID published the Bulletin of Municipal Foreign Policy, chronicling the whole movement, which is now available online for the first time. This research draws from these archives to reveal Irvine’s fascinating peacebuilding connections to Bernie Sanders, Carl Sagan and more. Motivations of the movement are framed in terms of World Society Theory, and the movement’s structural aspects are explained through Actor-Network Theory and multilevel governance. The foundations laid by Irvine for the role of cities in global governance  today cities is an inspiring and proud history.


You Might Feel a Pinch: Misinformation for Prior Appraisails Influences Subsequent Memory and Behavior

Kevin Cochran
Psychology & Social Behavior
kjcochra@uci.edu

Previous research on choice blindness has demonstrated that, when given a choice between multiple options, people often fail to notice if they option they are given is different from the one they chose. A separate line of research on the misinformation effect has shown that when people are given misleading information about an event they previously experienced, they often incorporate that misleading information into their subsequent memories for the event. The present study merged these two phenomena. Subjects underwent a painful laboratory task. Immediately afterward, they were asked to rate how painful the task was on a scale from 0 to 100. Later in the experiment, they were reminded about their pain rating, but some subjects were told their pain rating had been 20 points lower than it actually had. In a follow-up visit, subjects were asked to recall how painful the task had been. Results indicate that many subjects failed to detect that their pain rating had been manipulated, and that subjects who were exposed to misinformation about their pain ratings remembered the task as significantly less painful than subjects who were not misled.


Tough on Cops: Youth, Race, and the Police

Adam Fine
Psychology and Social Behavior
finea@uci.edu

In the US, there has been a long and complicated relationship between police and adolescents. This is particularly true for youth of color. Media coverage has become increasingly pronounced, and several high-profile deaths of unarmed youth of color at the hands of police have ignited national conversation about law enforcement, casting a spotlight on the relations between police and youth of color. The present study tracked a sample of 1,216 first-time, male, juvenile offenders for 2.5 years after their first arrest to explore: a) racial/ethnic differences in the longitudinal patterns of youths’ attitudes; and b) reciprocal associations between attitudes and offending. White youths’ attitudes remained largely stable, Black youths’ attitudes became more negative, and Latino youths’ attitudes became more negative but only among those who reoffended. Although the youths’ attitudes were related to reoffending, the bidirectional relation between attitudes and offending weakened across time. These findings suggest that youths’ first arrest largely set their attitudes towards the system. When it comes to young offenders’ interactions with the justice system, first impressions matter.