Robert and Patricia Duggan Professor, Distinguished Professor, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara
A major cause of human disability and death throughout the world, sepsis is a condition that begins with an infection, progresses rapidly and can set off a chain of effects that result in multiple organ failure and irreparable damage to the body. Because of the condition’s rapid onset, physicians must respond immediately to the symptoms with broad-spectrum antibiotics for infection, drugs to combat inflammation and, in the more critical cases, vasopressors to manage shock. Because sepsis is so difficult to detect in its early stages, however, little has been known about how it develops. This may explain why no new effective drugs to treat sepsis have been developed in decades, while it remains one of the leading causes of hospital deaths. Sepsis also can result in serious disabilities for those who survive.
Now, researchers led by MCDB professor Jamey Marth have developed a method for tracking, on a molecular level, the development of sepsis. Their paper, “Accelerated Aging and Clearance of Host Anti-inflammatory Enzymes by Discrete Pathogens Fuels Sepsis” is published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.
In a potential game changer for the health care industry, a new cell phone app and lab kit now allow a smartphone to identify bacteria from patients anywhere in the world. With the new app, doctors will be able to diagnose diseases and prescribe the appropriate antibiotic within a one-hour office visit, meaning faster recovery — and lower treatment costs — for patients. Developed by a research team led by MCDB professor Michael Mahan, the study “Smartphone-based pathogen diagnosis in urinary sepsis patients” was published in the journal EbioMedicine. The detection system succeeded in achieving rapid diagnosis of urinary tract infections — among the most common type of infection globally. The app uses a smartphone’s camera to measure a chemical reaction and determines a diagnosis in about an hour — and the simple, low-cost test can be performed in the world’s most remote locations.
Ever wondered how groups of cells managed to build your tissues and organs while you were just an embryo? Using state-of-the-art techniques he developed, Professor Otger Campàs and his group have cracked this longstanding mystery, revealing the astonishing inner workings of how embryos are physically constructed.
Like many first-year biology majors, Mirna Aparicio came to UC Santa Barbara with the goal of becoming a doctor. What she didn’t anticipate was how different university courses were from those she took in high school. She found help honing her study skills through an innovative program at UCSB designed to increase the success and retention of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors. Funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the BioMentors program aims to change the freshman and sophomore experience for undergraduate biology majors. And it has been very successful, particularly among underperforming, first-generation and underrepresented minority (URM) students.
In 2013, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three scientists for their contributions to uncovering the mechanisms governing vesicle transport in cells. Their explanations provided both a conceptual and a mechanistic understanding of basic processes at the most fundamental level.
Calcium is something of a double-edged sword. Too much of the essential element is as dangerous as too little, either case adversely affecting health in animals from humans to mice to fruit flies. Sensing calcium at all can be crucial.
Interstellar travel, light-driven spacecraft, suspended animation. It sounds like the formula for countless science fiction stories, but it could be reality in the not-so-far future if UC Santa Barbara researchers Philip Lubin and Joel Rothman get their way.
“Humanity has dreamed of interstellar flight for more than 100 years. We are working on bringing this dream to reality for all of us, but particularly for the next generation,” said Lubin, a physicist. He leads the UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group, which investigates, among many things, travel in deep space and searches for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Through the UCSB NASA Project Starlight program, Lubin’s team plans to use laser-propelled miniature spaceships (or “spacechips,” as they have been called) to transport the Rothman Group’s miniature lab animals across vast interstellar distances. These humble microscropic creatures — nematodes and tardigrades — are extremely hardy and can be placed in suspended animation to withstand the cold of space and the rigors of near light-speed travel through the cosmos.
“Following the longest voyage ever taken by a terrestrial creature, we can wake them up and ask how they’re enjoying the trip, whether they reproduce normally and how well they remember what we taught them on Earth,” noted Rothman, a biologist.