Sunday, February 26, 2012

Interview with Edward Hsiao MD PhD of UCSF

by Julia Moore, Drake HS

How did you become interested in musculoskeletal disorders?
I’ve always been interested in the skeleton. Although we typically think of bones as being solid and unchanging, they undergo a variety of very significant events throughout our lifetime, including growing and repairing after injury. In addition, bones are central to us as a living organism. They provide structure to our bodies, protect soft or vital organs, allow us to move efficiently, and provides bone marrow space for blood formation. We now know that many medically important diseases including osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, and heterotopic bone ossification are all a result of problems affecting normal bone formation.

How are we currently treating different types of musculoskeletal disorders?
Since we don’t  understand how many musculoskeletal disorders develop, our ability to prevent them is pretty limited. Treatments for established disease are also very rudimentary and mostly symptomatic. For example, many inherited diseases of the bone can only be treated by surgery to remove the affected bone. In some cases, we can use metal implants or joint replacement, but these have a relatively short lifespan. Even common diseases, such as osteoporosis or arthritis, have only limited medical treatments.

How do you do your research?
My research is driven by a desire to understand how hormones and genetics control human skeletal growth. Since getting samples of diseased tissues from patients is often difficult, I use a variety of model systems to study skeletal disease. This includes mouse models where I can control hormone signals, and human stem cells created from patients with genetic skeletal diseases (human induced pluripotent stem cells). Together, these models are helping us understand what causes disease and how we can develop new treatments.

What are artificial hormones and how are they advancing research and treatment?
Nature uses hormones as a way to communicate between different parts of the body. One major class of hormone molecules is called G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). Since there are over 500 GPCRs in the human genome, figuring out what each individual receptor does is a huge challenge. Our strategy uses a synthetic receptor that only responds to a synthetic drug. This system acts like an artificial hormone – if we add the drug, we can turn the system on; if we take away the drug, we can turn it off. This system allows us to “mimic” a normal hormone system and control that pathway using our drug. This model has proven useful for studying hormone signaling in complex organ systems, including cardiac disease, the brain, and now bone.

What do you think is the future of treatment and prevention of musculoskeletal disorders?
I think that developing robust prevention strategies is important. We also need to develop better combinations of surgical and medical management that have fewer side effects. Much of this can be gained by a better understanding of what happens in normal growth and how those mechanisms go wrong in disease. Finally, I believe that human stem cells provide a valuable new tool in this effort by allowing us to study lab-derived human tissues directly. These stem cells are already providing insights into some rare and dramatic bone diseases. We hope to be able to extend our findings to more common disorders.

Edward Hsiao will be speaking at Terra Linda High School in Room 207 on
Wednesday February 29th at 7:30-8:30pm

Written by: Julia Moore 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hydrology and Restoring Ecosystems

Hydrology and Restoring Ecosystems: Applications in Engineering and Earth Sciences

By Julia McKeag, MSS Intern, Terra Linda High School

We are water. Well, anywhere from sixty to eighty percent of our body anyway. We may be mostly water, however, our body still requires a daily intake of this substance. Not saltwater, not marsh water, not swamp water, not muddy water, not vitamin water, but clean, fresh, water. This need has been known since the beginning of time, an instinct stored within the very fiber of human being, and has resulted in many conflicts.
One of history’s famous “water wars” occurred between the farmers and ranchers of Owens Valley and the City of Los Angeles. In the 1800s, when Los Angeles outgrew its local water supply, the city searched for a new source of water. The mayor of Los Angeles, Fred Eaton, suggested that water from the Owens Valley could be diverted by aqueduct to Los Angeles. Owens Valley, a once fertile agricultural environment, supported various species of migrating birds, farms, and businesses. Naturally, Owens Valley inhabitants were outraged when their once fecund valley dried up into a second Mojave. The balance between the need for water, and the preservation of environment and agriculture was not reached, leaving some discouraged and many angered. 
This is where the study of hydrology comes into place. The field of hydrology not only concerns the sciences, but also the environment, politics, and public health. We have genius engineers and inventors, such as Archimedes and Louis Pasteur to thank for making modern society possible. However, the job of a true hydrologist requires more than engineering skills. Rachel Z. Kamman, a consulting hydrologist at Kamman Hydrology & Engineering, not only holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Lafayette College, but also an M. Eng., in Hydraulics, Coastal Engineering, Hydrology and Geomorphology from UC Berkeley.
The work of Kamman Hydrology and Engineering (KHE) focuses mainly on ecological habitat restoration, and revolves around projects involving fishery, wetlands, and riparian habitats. KHE has projects throughout California, most of which are on public land. In the words of Ms.Kamman, “We can not turn back time, (so) KHE works to understand how the landscape has changed and how best to improve, restore or protect ecological communities in the context of people and their infrastructure. Since water is fundamental to nature, understanding the landscape in terms of hydrology is a logical starting point for both evaluating the impacts of change and restoring ecological function.”
Ms. Kamman believes that one of the biggest problems affecting local watersheds is that people are disconnected from their environment. If people don’t realize that their actions are directly linked to the health of a local watershed, people won’t think twice about what goes into the storm drain. Fertilizers, Paint, and Soap are all deposited directly into the nearest creek or bay when vacuumed into a storm drain. 
Overall, the work hydrologists such as Rachel Z. Kamman is crucial to the structure and function of our society today, and a healthy watershed is critical to a healthy and functioning community. Without advances in hydrology and engineering, our society would be eons behind what it is today.

Written By: Julia McKeag

Marin Science Seminar
with Rachel Z. Kamman, P.E.

Upcoming Seminar: Wednesday February 7, 2012 from 7:30 to 8:30
Terra Linda Highschool, Room 207

Monday, February 6, 2012

An Interview With Prominent Hydrologist: Rachel Z Kamman

Rachel Z. Kamman, P.E.
Consulting Hydrologist of Kamman Hydrology & Engineering
Interview by Julia McKeag, Terra Linda High School

1) Why did you become a hydrologist? What inspired you to study hydrology and engineering in college?

RK- I always loved sciences in school and entered college as a biology major. In my freshman year I heard that there were some cool water classes in the engineering department, so I sat in during my second semester and as a sophomore, signed up for a class in fluid mechanics (the study of the physics of water movement).  I was hooked after the first class.  Hydrology 101 was next and I loved that even more because it focuses on the movement of water across the landscape.   I studied both biology and water resources engineering in College, and wanted to combine the majors but the departments had no combined program (this was before environmental engineering existing). Eventually I had to pick a degree, and chose engineering because I wanted to focus on applied science. 

2) What types of projects do Kamman Hydrology & Engineering do?

RK- Most of KHE’s projects are focused on ecological restoration of wetlands, creeks and rivers and estuaries.  We have projects throughout California; almost all of them are on public lands (parks -  open space -  baylands).  Most of our project entailed site assessment, monitoring, engineering and geomorphic analysis, and collaboration with other natural resource scientists.  Each project is as unique as the place, the critters or habitat we are trying to improve, and then impacts and constraints created by human modifications of the landscape.    Since we can not turn back time, KHE works to understand how the landscape has changed and how best to improve, restore or protect ecological communities in the context of people and their infrastructure.  Since water is fundamental to nature, understanding the landscape in terms of hydrology is a logical starting point for both evaluating the impacts of change and restoring ecological function. 

3) What kinds of problems are affecting our local watershed?

RK- One of the biggest problems affecting our local watersheds is that people are disconnected from the natural landscape that they live in.  Once disconnected from our natural setting, we are no longer aware of our day to day impacts.  If you don’t recognize that the water in your driveway or yard is connected by a storm drain to the creek and the bay, you probably don’t think twice about rinsing your paint brush, washing your car or fertilizing your lawn. 

The second biggest problem is that there is a disconnect in our local government between individual development projects and a cumulative and long term impacts of those developments on the surrounding watersheds.   We need to get better as stepping back from a proposed development and looking at the landscape context and real costs (environmental and infrastructure) associated with new development.  These are costs that communities will have to shoulder for generations to come.  This is particularly true in the context of seal level rise.

4) What can we do to help our local watershed?

RK- One of the biggest things we can do to help our local watershed is to understand that our watershed, our communities our homes ARE habitats. The more we can integrate our neighborhoods with the native plant and animal communities and the physical landscape they depend on, the more likely they are to thrive in our midst.    Everyone who lives in a watershed is responsible for it’s care; a term often used for this is stewardship.  Every action has an impact, our daily choices determine the ecological integrity our community.   

Another important thing you can do is to act in any way possible to protect and restore the ecological integrity of our watersheds.  Protecting what we have left is critical, since, even with the best science and all the money in the world,  rarely can you replace the diversity and resiliency of a wild ecosystem. 

5) What is your opinion on the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir? Do you think the Hetch Hetchy Valley should be restored?

RK- Hetch Hetchy is a great example of an amazing natural resource lost in an era when we focused solely on meeting human demands for water without placing adequate value on natural resources.    It would be wonderful to see it restored.  

6) In your opinion, what invention (related to water) was most crucial for the success of our society today?

RK- Water treatment and delivery systems, and waste water treatment.  These systems are critical for our health.    We take them for granted.  

7) What do you think is water’s most interesting quality?

RK- Two actually:  1) The way water effects light, water colors almost everything we see.  2) The amazing power and energy contained and transmitted by water.   Consider Tsunami in Japan last year.  Water transmits energy over vast distances and timescales, think about ocean circulation, waves on a beach, water washing down the street after a downpour, raindrops on your roof.  Now shift contexts - think about role of water in a single human body, and then expand your thinking to world populations. 


Interview By: Julia McKeag

Upcoming Seminar: Wednesday, February 8th, 2012
Terra Linda High School, Room 207
7:30-8:30 p.m.

"Transportation Research Panel" - An Interview with En-Ya Zhang from the MSEL Transportation Team

by Shoshana Harlem, Terra Linda High School En-Ya Zhang is a Sophomore at Terra Linda High School. She is part of MSEL's Transportati...

About Us

Marin Science Seminar is a one-hour science lecture/presentation with a question and answer period open to all interested local teenagers, educators and community. Seminar sessions are held 12 Wednesday evenings during the school year, from 7:30 to 8:30 pm in room 207 at Terra Linda High School, 320 Nova Albion Way, San Rafael. Seminar speakers are scientists, mathematicians, engineers, physicians, technologists and computer programmers. The topics presented are in a specific area of the speaker’s expertise, geared to interested high school students.