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A Call for Trojan Courage

Photo by Amy Tierney for Lee Salem Photography

In a war-time commencement address, U.S. Sen. John McCain called upon new graduates to strive for valor in their lives.

“Be brave,” urged U.S. Sen. John McCain in his address to some 10,000 graduates, their families and friends at USC’s 121st annual commencement ceremony. “Fear is the opportunity for courage, not proof of cowardice.”

The three-term senator, former presidential candidate and highly decorated Vietnam War aviator spoke on May 14 before an estimated crowd of 40,000 gathered in Alumni Memorial Park. With him was his wife, USC alumna Cindy Hensley.

“No one,” he told the graduates, “expects you at your age to know precisely how you will lead accomplished lives or use your talents in a cause greater than your self-interest….

“You might think that I’m now going to advise you not to be afraid to fail. I’m not. Be afraid. Speaking from considerable experience, failing stinks. Just don’t be undone by it. Move on. Failure is no more a permanent condition than is success.

“‘Defeat is never fatal,’ Winston Churchill observed. ‘Victory is never final. It’s courage that counts.’ That’s the only really useful advice I have for you: be brave.

“While that advice might seem a bit stingy and simple in its economy, I assure you, no one ever gave me more important counsel.”

Over the past three decades, America has essentially diluted the definition of courage, McCain went on to say to the newly minted bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree holders.

“We have attributed courage to all manner of actions that may indeed be admirable, but they hardly compare to the conscious self-sacrifice on behalf of something greater than self-interest that once defined courage,” the senator said.

As an exemplar of true courage, he pointed to fellow Arizonan Pat Tillman. The U.S. Army ranger walked away from a lucrative career in professional football to enlist after the Sept. 11 attacks. In April 2004, he was killed in action in Afghanistan.

McCain – who spent five years as a POW in North Vietnam – recalled another fallen comrade who had displayed uncommon valor: the man in the cell adjacent to McCain’s own in the dreaded “Hanoi Hilton.” That soldier never returned from his final interrogation.

The senator also pointed to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a pillar of moral courage: “‘If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for,’ [King] declared, ‘he isn’t fit to live,’” McCain quoted.

While he acknowledged that it’s human nature to be fearful, McCain urged students not to let this condition lead to paralysis.

“We all have to face fear and make choices in our lives to act or not, love well or not, to be brave or not. One in 10,000 of us, if that many, will make the choice Pat Tillman or Dr. King made,” McCain said.

After McCain’s remarks, USC President Steven B. Sample conferred an honorary doctorate on the senator from Arizona, and another on theoretical physicist Edward Witten.

Presenting the colors at USC’s 121st commencement.

Photo by Amy Tierney for Lee Salem Photography

Born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936, McCain attended the U.S. Naval Academy, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both Navy admirals.

After graduating in 1958, McCain became an aircraft pilot. In 1967, his plane was struck down by a missile over Vietnam, and he was taken captive.

When the North Vietnamese realized they had captured the son of Adm. Jack McCain, commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, they offered their prisoner early release. The younger McCain repeatedly refused, citing the code of conduct that called for prisoners-of-war to be released in the order in which they are captured.

McCain and his fellow POWs were released in 1973, and McCain became the U.S. Navy’s liaison to the U.S. Senate.

Elected to Congress in 1982, representing what was then the 1st Congressional District of Arizona, McCain rose to senator in 1986. Now in his third term, McCain has become a vocal opponent of pork-barrel spending and an advocate of campaign finance reform and Native American rights.

He is a best-selling author whose books include Why Courage Matters: The Way to a Braver Life, Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir and Worth the Fighting For.

Post-apartheid Party

Photo by Rachel Elias

Clergyman to the World

Love was the theme of Desmond Tutu’s March 31 address to a sold-out Bovard Auditorium. President Steven B. Sample introduced the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize-winning archbishop emeritus of Cape Town as “a clergyman whose congregation is the world.”

Tutu’s speech, titled “Africa’s Rebirth,” came less than a month ahead of South Africa’s 10th-anniversary celebration of freedom. April 27, 1994, was the historic day when, as Tutu put it, “so, so many of us could, for the first time, vote in the land of our birth.”

Stressing that South African freedom would not have been possible without the help of people around the world who had fought and prayed for change, he symbolically proclaimed the 1,200 students, alumni and guests in the Bovard audience officially South African.

Tutu became an internationally known figure in the late 1970s and early 1980s while serving as general secretary of the South African Council of Churches. In his role as bishop of Johannesburg and later archbishop of Cape Town, he struggled to bridge the gap between black and white Anglicans in the years leading up to the demise of apartheid. In 1995, president Nelson Mandela appointed Tutu to head South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Today, he is chancellor of the University of Western Cape.

Promoting his new book, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Times, Tutu expressed full confidence in the essential goodness of the world, describing an all-encompassing human family that transcends race and nation: “In this family, there are no outsiders … black, white, gray, yellow, gay, lesbian, so-called straight … Jew, Palestinian, Bush, Bin Laden,” he said. “[God says]: ‘You are My children. You are beautiful. I love you with a love that will not change. I love you with a love that will not let you go.’”

Closing with the thesis of his deeply personal and theologically sophisticated book, Tutu challenged the audience: “‘Will you help Me realize My dream? Please, please help Me,’ says God.”

Pulitzer Progress

Illustration by A.J. Garces

Last year composer John Adams soundly boxed the publishing elite in the ear when he dissed the Pulitzer Prize for Music, the honor just bestowed on him. Rolling with the punch, the Pulitzer governing board announced in June it would take “a broad view of serious music” – opening the door to musicals, film scores and jazz improvisation for the first time. But officials won’t budge on how winners are picked. USC’s Jay T. Harris, who led the yearlong Pulitzer board study resulting in the new criteria, says the award will still be selected by the full board – mostly journalists, editors and academics. The Pulitzer is “not a prize for people in the discipline by people in the discipline,” Harris told the New York Times. It’s an award by an “informed group of Americans” relying on the judgments of experts.

Technology News

Illustration by Michael Klein

Squeezing Out Houses

Forget drywallers and electricians. A USC engineer promises robots will soon build custom homes in a single day.

Industrial engineer Behrokh Khoshnevis is taking the assembly line to a whole new level: He imagines houses and apartments built entirely by machines – in hours, not months – by robot construction workers that don’t take lunch breaks.

Last March, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering researcher saw his system – called Contour Crafting – get a big shot in the arm when Degussa AG, one of the world’s largest manufacturers and suppliers of construction materials, agreed to partner with him. Khoshnevis’ computer-controlled system squeezes out walls like toothpaste from a tube. The building material flows at a constant rate from crane- or gantry-mounted nozzles while moveable trowels mold the concrete into the desired shape.

Eventually, Khoshnevis, who is a professor in the Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, hopes to squeeze out full-scale houses.

A demonstration for Degussa executives at the firm’s Düsseldorf headquarters won rave reviews. “It is our belief that your concept will be a quantum leap in modern construction industry,” wrote Gerhard Albrecht, head of divisional research and technology transfer for Admixture, a Degussa specialty materials subsidiary, in a letter following the presentation. The firm’s R&D departments have since begun to develop construction materials for the special building conditions of the new technology.

Another demonstration, for a New York Times reporter, was no less impressive. “In a laboratory in Los Angeles early this year, a robot armed with a concrete pump built its first wall. Just a small wall, about a yard wide, a foot high and an inch thick, but beautifully formed in a graceful oval sweep,” wrote Times reporter Margaret Wertheim. “In theory the robot’s descendants will be able to construct not only right angles but also compound curves, as shapely as those in Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain.”

For now, Khoshnevis’ goal is far humbler: to construct a full-size, 2,000-square-foot house, with utilities embedded, in just 24 hours. He already has a working prototype that can build full-scale walls, and he’s perfecting a system to mix the wall’s ingredients continuously in industrial quantities right at the nozzle – “the way a spider makes silk to build a web,” he says.

Architects like Venice-based Paul Lynn are excited by the possibilities – freedom from the tyranny of boxes, the ability to easily create curving structures like Gehry’s Disney Hall or Antonio Gaudí’s wavy masterpieces. “Everything Gaudí did you could do with this technology,” Lynn told the Times. “I’m convinced that this will allow you to make beautiful, innovative and as yet unimagined kinds of houses.”

This is no faraway dream. The first one, says Khoshnevis, will go up in 2005.

– Eric Mankin

Today’s Students meet Yesterday’s Survivors

Mark Harris (standing) uses a testimony in his seminar.

Photo by John Livzey

Holocaust Time Capsule

When USC documentarian Mark Jonathan Harris was researching his Oscar-winning Into the Arms of Strangers, he had to drive to the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation headquarters in North Hollywood. Today Harris and anyone else who wants to can access this digital video archive right on campus. Fifty-two thousand testimonies by Holocaust survivors and witnesses now travel seamlessly across the high-bandwidth Internet2 network from the Shoah Foundation to classrooms at USC, Yale and Rice universities. The archive can also be accessed via three dedicated workstations in Doheny Library.

Last fall, Harris integrated the archive into his seminar on non-fiction filmmaking. “I wanted the students to focus on what makes a good interview versus what makes a bad one, and to consider what sections of the testimonies would work well on film,” Harris says. Librarian Anthony Anderson used the archive in his freshman seminar on Anne Frank’s Holland, and film professor Michael Renov drew on it for his honors seminar on the Holocaust as well as a graduate seminar in film theory. This fall, historian Sharon Gillerman of Hebrew Union College is using it to teach a survey course at USC. As the number of living survivors and eyewitnesses continues to dwindle, the Shoah Foundation archive becomes increasingly valuable, says Anderson. All the more reason to spread it around.

– Susan L. Wampler

Photos courtesy of ICT

Left, the USC team on site at the Parthenon. Right, a virtual recreation, including the Elgin Marbles that now reside in London.

Marble Magic

In a project of virtual virtuosity, USC computer scientists reunite the Parthenon with its ornamental sculptures.

For two centuries, sculptures from the world’s best known and most architecturally revered structure have stood 1,500 miles from their niches. This summer, in time for the Athens Olympics, computer whizzes from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering will reunite them.

Built in the reign of Pericles, the Parthenon – crowning monument of the Acropolis – originally housed dozens of marble masterpieces carved by sculptor Pheidias. But in 1802 Britain’s Lord Elgin removed the majority of these sculptures from the Parthenon’s pediments, metopes and frieze. He had them transported to England, and there they remain in the British Museum despite persistent requests from Greece for their return.

The USC team isn’t waiting around for a diplomatic solution. Researcher Paul Debevec and his team at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies have returned the sculptures to their former places of honor. It’s a virtual return, a simulation only, but still a simulation of unprecedented realism and fidelity.

To restore the so-called Elgin Marbles to the Parthenon, the USC team developed two custom 3-D scanning processes. For the sculptures, Debevec turned to programmer Chris Tchou and graphics producer Tim Hawkins, who built a custom structured-light scanning system that could record exquisitely detailed cubic geometric models.

Working from high-quality casts found at the Basel Skulpturhalle in Switzerland, the researchers scanned more than 2,000 figures and fragments. (The originals reside in museums in London, Athens, Paris and elsewhere in Europe.) With help from Philippe Martinez, an archeologist with the École Normale Superièure in Paris, Debevec and his team knit these scans into millimeter-accurate models.

The Parthenon itself presented a different photographic challenge. Working with the ongoing Acropolis restoration effort, the team brought a special 3-D laser scanner to Athens that could record the geometry of the ancient structure. They acquired 120 panoramic laser scans, more than 6 billion point measurements in all. USC programmer Andrew Gardner worked with student researchers Therese Lundgren and Nathan Yun ’00, MS ’04 to assemble the scans into a 90-million polygon model of the temple and its surroundings.

Lastly Debevec’s team virtually positioned the sculptures and ornaments in their former places on the Parthenon and built renderings of the reunited ensemble.

The team also produced a short film titled The Parthenon. This 2-1/2 minute virtual journey through the majestic temple and its sculptural decorations premieres in August at the prestigious SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference in Los Angeles. The following week, the models will appear in a short film by acclaimed Greek director Constantin Costa-Gavras at the Olympic Games in Athens.

– Eric Mankin

Illustration by A.J. Garces

Photo Diary

With the advent of cell phone cameras, “moblogging” is all the cyber rage among teens. Nothing to do with the unwashed masses, it entails chronicling one’s days by e-mailing picture messages from a mobile camera phone. These unpretentious snapshots – in all their blurry, low-res splendor – aren’t artfully composed; rather they’re dropped into everyday communications, creating a casual photo diary, USC cultural anthropologist Mizuko Ito told PC World. Whether these images get posted on free moblogging sites like Textamerica, Fotopages and depends on culture. Ito, who also teaches at Japan’s Keio University, says Japanese kids are unlikely to share their pictures on a public moblog. Their American counterparts, she says, aren’t so shy. Next on the horizon: one-click posting, whereby moblog photos wend their way to the Web direct from the handset.

Shelf Life

Photo by Mark Tanner

Hidden History

A USC historian unearths the ties – both intellectual and personal – between anthropologists Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict.

Intertwined Lives: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict and Their Circle
By Lois W. Banner
Alfred A. Knopf, $30

Weaving together thousands of documents – including stacks of previously restricted private letters and papers – USC College historian Lois Banner has written the first joint biography of Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict.

Banner spent years poring over the anthropologists’ articles and research papers before gaining access to their complete archives – including hundreds of letters first opened to scholars in 2001. Intertwined Lives employs this wealth of source material to illustrate how Mead and Benedict dealt with the social and political events of their time.

The book also examines their relationship in the context of family, friends, husbands and colleagues.

“I wanted to look at both their personal and professional relationships, as well as their intimate circle of friends,” says Banner.

The complicated friendship began at Barnard College in 1922. Mead was a student; Benedict, a teaching assistant.

“These are two of the greatest women intellects, who had enormously hidden lives,” says Banner, noting that in the course of a 25-year relationship as friends, colleagues and lovers, Mead and Benedict were never photographed together.

“Both were married – and believed very strongly in marriage,” the author explains. The anthropologists also feared their liaison could compromise their careers. Still the two women remained intensely – if privately – involved in one another’s lives until Benedict died at age 61.

BENEDICT’S AND MEAD’S intellectual relationship is no less intriguing. “They modeled themselves on one another,” says Banner. “Their work was very much a conversation with one another. The friendship enabled them to have confidence in an academic and intellectual world that was controlled by men. It doubled their ability to take on the research.”

Benedict and Mead were modernists, and, as anthropologists, they considered themselves scientists. “Accuracy was their standard,” says Banner.

Specializing in gender roles in primitive societies, Mead is widely known for her best-selling books Coming of Age in Samoa, Growing Up in New Guinea and Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies.

Benedict studied the relativity of cultures. She looked at how society defines deviance – including mental illness, criminal activity and juvenile delinquency. She published the landmark studies Patterns of Culture, Race and The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.

“If they had never met, I’m not sure either would have made such a great mark,” Banner says. “That’s how important they were to one another.”

Publisher’s Weekly called Banner’s book an “engaging, fast-reading dual biography [that] newly enlightens scholars and general readers alike.” The Washington Post praised it as “a thorough and exhaustively researched account of these women, as well as the first to draw upon all of their papers…. The result is an engrossing narrative….”

Banner, who has taught history at USC since 1983, has written eight books; Intertwined Lives is her third biography of historical figures.

– Gilien Silsby


Photo by Carl Studna

Law-Abiding Immigrants

Newcomers to America walk a tightrope between ethnic identity and civic conformity. Should tradition ever trump the criminal code?

The Cultural Defense
By Alison Dundes Renteln
Oxford University Press, $45

The owner of the Chinese live-animal food shop didn’t get it: Why had she been cited for selling live chickens when the restaurant across the street boiled dozens of live lobsters everyday?

A man from Yemen was equally mystified: He’d been arrested for chewing khat, a stimulant comparable to three espressos. He had no idea the leaves were considered a controlled substance in the United States.

For many immigrants, living in America is a cultural balancing act – a struggle to preserve their native customs while conforming to the laws of their new home.

In The Cultural Defense, political scientist Alison Dundes Renteln examines hundreds of court cases involving customs and religious beliefs that lead to alleged drug abuse, animal cruelty and mistreatment of the dead.

Part anthropology, part incisive legal analysis, the book makes an eloquent case for revising the laws that deny minority cultures a place in the American legal landscape. “The whole point of the book is to challenge policies based on the ‘When in Rome’ presumption,” Renteln explains. “The right to your culture is a basic human right. People may act in ways that seem incomprehensible but make sense when you understand their customs and background.”

Renteln doesn’t believe cultural defenses should be used to excuse illegal activity entirely; but she does think courts should consider a defendant’s cultural background during the guilt and penalty phases of a case.

Animal cruelty cases offer interesting examples of culture clash. Take cockfighting: While acceptable in many parts of the world, the blood sport is illegal in all but a few states. Selling live animals at market is also banned by some local authorities. “We need to remember that different cultural communities use animals for varying purposes, none of which is less important than mainstream uses of animals,” Renteln says.

Cultural differences also come up in drug cases. In Yemen, Kenya and Somalia, the chewing of khat leaves is culturally required at social gatherings and celebrations. Immigrants charged with possessing or using the leaves are often astonished to learn it’s an illegal substance. Similarly drinking kava tea, made from a Polynesian root, has led to DUI prosecutions against unsuspecting Tongans. The tea has an effect similar to alcohol.

Cultural questions can also arise in civil suits. In one case, a Hindu man sued Taco Bell for serving him a beef burrito instead of the bean burrito he’d ordered. His attorney claimed the trauma of mistakenly consuming an animal prohibited by his religion was “the equivalent of eating his ancestors.” Taco Bell settled just before the case went to trial.

Renteln, who joined the faculty of USC College in 1987, started studying cultural defenses a decade ago. At the time she was ambivalent about their merits. “I believed people had a right to follow their cultural traditions, but how far do you go? There was a conflict between the right to one’s culture and other human rights,” she says. Her opinion has shifted since then. She now believes if observing a tradition causes no irreparable harm to women or children, the government shouldn’t interfere.

“Cultural information should be admissible in all cases to help the court understand motivations,” she says. However, “that does not mean I think culture should always influence the outcome in cases.”

– Gilien Silsby

Books and Music

Mendelssohn: Complete Works for Cello and Piano
CD by Bernadene Blaha and Elizabeth Dolin
Analekta $15.98

It’s uncanny how Mendelssohn’s entire repertoire for cello and piano – the two sonatas, Variations Concertantes, “Assai Tranquillo” and “Lied Ohne Worte” – neatly fits on a single disc. USC Thornton School pianist Bernadene Blaha teams here with Canadian cellist Elizabeth Dolin in what calls “a lovely, highly recommendable release.” Britain’s The Strad magazine admires the duo’s “technical finesse” in delivering “just the right level of delicacy that Mendelssohn, poised between Classicism and Romanticism, demands.”

Dancing in the Dark
CD by Tierney Sutton
Telarc $17.98

Jazz diva and USC Thornton School faculty member Tierney Sutton’s newest recording – subtitled “Inspired by the Music of Frank Sinatra” – is a sultry salute to the Chairman of the Board. Her smoky and mellow readings of classics like “What’ll I Do,” “Fly Me to the Moon” and “All the Way” add up to what jazz critic David Horiuchi calls “a beautiful listen.”

The Montesi Scandal: The Death of Wilma Montesi and the Birth of the Paparazzi in Fellini’s Rome
by Karen Pinkus
University of Chicago Press $27.50

Take a steamy tour of 1950s Rome and the beginnings of la dolce vita in this reenactment of one of modern Italy’s greatest scandals. Officially ruled an “accidental drowning,” the sensational death of pretty Wilma Montesi ignited gossip about lavish parties, drug-filled orgies, movie stars and the son of a powerful politician. Karen Pinkus’ filmic narrative gives us Fellini stock characters – bitter actresses, jaded princes, corrupt politicians and Jesuits in sunglasses – selling their stories to the tabloids, then retracting them, as the first paparazzi give chase on scooters.

Health News

Illustration by Michael Klein

Cell Shocked

A ray-gun to fight cancer? Don’t laugh. It may just happen.

The notion of zapping cancer cells into oblivion isn’t as fanciful as it sounds. A new technology that uses electric fields to alter the “guts” of cells may lead to improved treatment of cancer and leukemia, say researchers in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

Called electroperturbation, the process involves bombarding cancer cells with electric pulses lasting tens of nanoseconds (billionths of a second). So brief and intense are these blasts that they pass through the outer membrane of the cell without damaging it, says Thomas Vernier, an expert in semiconductors based at USC’s Information Sciences Institute. “But they jolt the cell’s insides and, delivered in strong enough doses, prompt the cell to self-destruct.”

A prototype – called “Ultra-short Pulsed Systems Electroperturbation Technology,” or UPSET – has been in development at USC since 2001 thanks to grants from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Army Research Office. Investigator Martin Gundersen leads a team of USC Viterbi electrical engineers and cell biologists from the Keck School of Medicine of USC who, together with biophotonics specialists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, are now testing UPSET.

The technique has advantages over conventional T-cell treatments: It is noninvasive and can be delivered remotely, without attaching contacts or probes directly to the cells. The researchers hope one day nanosecond pulsing may replace procedures such as surgical removal of tumors or toxic treatments such as chemotherapy.

An earlier technique, called electroporation, delivers pulses in durations ranging from microseconds to milliseconds. However, these longer pulses punch holes in the external membrane and can inadvertently fry a cell. UPSET delivers shorter and higher-frequency bursts of electricity. The swift spike in voltage simply rearranges the cell’s insides – its nucleus and mitochondria – without altering its outer shell.

Vernier is now using UPSET to study the biological mechanisms that trigger apoptosis, or cell death. Healthy cells automatically self-destruct when damaged or when their numbers grow too large. But mutated cells lose the capacity to self-destruct. They begin instead to proliferate rapidly. Vernier and his colleagues are zapping them with different pulse exposures to see how the cells react.

“The more powerful nanosecond pulsing requires a very sophisticated solid-state micropulse generator, a coaxial cable and special spark-gap switch – all of which we are designing and assembling at USC,” Vernier says.

Initial observations show the nanosecond pulses produce bursts of calcium inside cells within milliseconds after the pulse is delivered. “This is important,” says Vernier, “because calcium ions serve as regulatory messengers in a wide variety of processes across the physiological landscape of the cell.”

As the technology is refined, Vernier believes UPSET may become a practical tool for treating a variety of diseases. The technology also may lead to other biologically inspired nanomachines capable of coaxing unhealthy cells into healing or killing themselves.

– Diane Ainsworth

Autoimmune Arsenal

Taming the Wolf

For the 1.5 million Americans with lupus erythematosus, there’s been little progress in treatment since the 1970s. Few drug therapies are specifically approved to combat this painful, sometimes fatal chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease affecting the skin, joints, blood and kidneys.

That may change soon. Rheumatologist William Stohl of the Keck School of Medicine of USC is conducting phase II trials of LymphoStat-B, a monoclonal antibody that appears to interfere with the immune-system malfunction that contributes to lupus. Current therapies try to suppress the entire immune system and reduce inflammation. The aim of drugs such as LymphoStat-B is to target the specific mechanisms of inflammation and autoimmunity without suppressing the whole immune system.

LymphoStat-B works against a molecule called BLyS, high levels of which can contribute to autoimmune disease by increasing the number of autoantibody-producing B cells. In mouse trials, similar agents arrested progression of lupus. “The mice live far longer, their autoantibodies are inhibited, their kidney function is preserved. Lots of good things happen,” Stohl says.

Phase I trials, conducted at USC and elsewhere to determine the safety of LymphoStat-B in human subjects, showed patients on the drug had no more adverse events than those treated with placebos. The FDA has since “fast tracked” the product into phase II trials and expanded the study’s scope to include patients with rheumatoid arthritis. “I’m cautiously very optimistic that LymphoStat-B is going to have a major impact on the clinical care of our patients,” says Stohl. “It could revolutionize treatment for lupus, in particular.”

– Monika Guttman

Sanguine About New Surgery

Photo by Michele A.H. Smith

It’s a Bloodless Miracle

There was something unusual about the transplant. Not that surgeons removed part of a living Dallas man’s liver and implanted it into his son; no, the unusual thing was that they did so via “bloodless surgery.” USC surgeons have championed such procedures, performing 21 adult bloodless liver transplants since 1999. Every donor and recipient in these operations has survived and thrived, says Randy Henderson, director of transfusion-free medicine at USC University Hospital. “Through careful and thoughtful management, the surgeons have really elevated the quality of care.”

The surgeries originally were created for Jehovah’s Witnesses who, because of religious beliefs, do not accept transfusion of blood or blood products. But transfusion-free surgery has other benefits – for example: helping to lighten the strain on the world’s limited blood supply.

Keck School of Medicine surgeons and physicians are recognized as pioneers in transfusion-free techniques. At USC, bloodless techniques are now used not only for liver, pancreas and the biliary tree, but in cardiac, orthopedic, vascular, thoracic and plastic surgery, and neurosurgery.

Transfusion-free surgery consists of three stages, according to the Keck School surgeon Nicolas Jabbour:

• Before surgery, physicians administer drugs to boost the patient’s red blood-cell count.

• At the start of the procedure, they remove one to four units of blood, leaving it connected to the patient. Intravenous fluid is infused into the patient, diluting the remaining blood. Any blood lost during the surgery contains fewer red blood cells, but it too is salvaged and conserved for the patient. Once surgery is done, the removed blood is infused back into the patient’s circulatory system.

• Later, physicians administer blood tests and transfer more blood as needed.

Because the blood is always connected to the patient, there’s no danger of a mismatch, a small but acknowledged risk – due to clerical error – in all transfusions.

Jabbour, who is associate director of liver transplantation surgery at USC University Hospital, also advocates the technique because repeated transfusions may increase the risk of infection and potentially suppress the patient’s immune system. Liver transplant recipients often have hepatitis C, contracted from long-ago blood transfusions, he points out.

Jabbour likens blood to another precious resource: oil. “The public sees oil as plentiful, inexpensive and safe,” he says, “so little interest or effort is paid toward the conservation, improvement or development of alternatives to dependence on oil.” But blood, like oil, “is a limited resource.”

He is editing a key textbook on transfusion-free surgical techniques and has lectured on the process in Belgium, France and China, where physicians are particularly concerned with risks from HIV and SARS. “In the future, we see bloodless surgery as the standard of care for any patient,” Jabbour says. “Avoiding blood loss and using blood products judiciously just make for a better surgery.”

Jabbour’s Principles of Transfusion-Free Medicine and Surgery (Blackwell Publishing) will be released in December.

– Alicia Di Rado

Illustration by A.J. Garces

Take This Job and Smoke It

Parents worried about the insidious charm of Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man have a new nemesis in the struggle to keep kids away from cigarettes: the guy who signs the paycheck. Everyone knows about the dangers to children of second-hand smoke. Now a USC study in the journal Health Psychology reveals heretofore unsuspected dangers of unemployment-related smoke. According to Jennifer B. Unger of the Keck School’s Institute for Prevention Research, should you get sacked, your kids will be 87 percent more likely than their peers to begin smoking within a year. The results come from interviews with 2,000 sixth and seventh graders at 24 urban schools. “In times of economic and employment instability, many more families could face losing their jobs,” Unger told the Internet Broadcasting System. Their kids may face even longer-term problems.

People Watch

Photo by Philip Channing

Pap Rally

A Keck School gynecologist brings life-saving cervical cancer screenings to women in rural El Salvador and beyond.

Miriam Cremer’s crusade started in 1999. During a stint as a student health worker in rural El Salvador, she was amazed to find large numbers of women dying of cervical cancer – a preventable disease. She went to the only pay phone in town, called a family doctor back home and pleaded: “We need to get these women Pap tests!”

Cremer has returned to El Salvador many times since then. Now a gynecology fellow at LAC+USC Medical Center, she most recently led a team to the mountain town of San Sebastián, performing hundreds of gynecological exams. But this time Cremer added a research component.

In the West, where screenings and treatment are readily available, cervical cancer has sharply declined. Worldwide, however, it strikes 470,000 women a year and kills some 230,000. In the absence of sophisticated lab equipment, international health organizations currently favor a simple test using vinegar swabs, which turn potentially abnormal cervical cells white. This inexpensive method, however, yields many false positives. Cremer set out to test an alternative screening involving the use of digital images of the cervix. She and her fellow gynecologists enrolled 526 San Sebastián women in a pilot study. Each patient received a Pap smear, a visual inspection and a digital image screening. The doctors shipped the slides and tissue samples back to Los Angeles, where PathNet Esoteric Laboratory Institute agreed to read them without charge.

Cremer’s team returned to San Sebastián in April to treat 14 women found to have cancerous or precancerous lesions. As for the screening value of digital imaging, while more research is needed, she calls it “very promising” as an affordable alternative to the Pap test.

– Alicia Di Rado

Irate Caller ID

Illustration by Tim Bower

For Empathy, Press 4

Just because computers have no emotions doesn’t mean they have to be emotionally tone-deaf. To prove the point, USC linguist and computer scientist Shrikanth Narayanan has developed software that recognizes irritation in the human voice. The application can distinguish frustrated speech from normal speech with 85 percent accuracy. The obvious application: those annoying automated phone triage networks that occasionally drive consumers to despair.

Narayanan’s system can read increasing levels of frustration in the voice of a caller navigating the labyrinth of numeric options. As the caller’s anger rises, the system offers a soothing computerized response or, in dire cases, immediately transfers the line to a human operator. Conversely, Narayanan envisions routing relaxed and happy callers to customer surveys or recorded promotions. A commercially viable version of this system may be available within two years. And that’s just the beginning: “The underlying voice-recognition technology we are developing for this application will be useful in many other areas, including automated training, education and games,” Narayanan says.

– Rick Keir

Raw-Bar Research

Illustration by Tim Bower

Science on a Half Shell

To most people, oysters are a culinary delicacy. To Dennis Hedgecock, they’re the marine equivalent of white mice: a testbed for basic genomic research. A marine biologist and geneticist who joined USC College last year, Hedgecock is probably best known for crossbreeding Pacific oysters, one of the top crops of commercial hatcheries. A new hybrid developed by his research team at UC Davis, with help from longtime collaborator and USC marine biologist Donal Manahan, grows larger and faster than its parent stock – a quality that has oyster farmers eager to sow these saltwater pearls. But Hedgecock’s ambition goes beyond stocking the world’s raw bars. He and Manahan have already begun studying the hybrid oysters as models to answer fundamental questions in biology.

Using DNA mapping and functional genomics, Hedgecock is probing

the genetic basis of hybrid vigor; meanwhile Manahan is focusing on the changes in metabolism and physiology that lead to the hybrid oyster’s rapid and sustained growth. This promising collaboration may shed light on the roots of hybrid vigor not only in oysters but in other organisms. “The domestication of farm animals, dogs and cats happened so long ago, all we have are the results,” Hedgecock says. “With oyster aquaculture, which is still so new, we have a chance to understand exactly how the evolutionary process of domestication happens. And with the tools of modern genomics, we can follow the process in detail, understanding at a genetic level what changes are associated with which traits.”

– Eva Emerson

Photo by Steven Poster ASC

She’s Stringing for CNN

A Daily Trojan reporter goes global, writing articles for’s 2004 election-watching “Campus Vibe” site.

There’s a new star reporter at CNN, and she hasn’t even graduated yet. Gina Goodhill, a USC communications major and reporter for the Daily Trojan, is a contributing writer for’s “America Votes 2004: Campus Vibe”– a site offering student perspectives on the November election.

In addition to reporting the news, Goodhill has been shaking up some time-worn Trojan stereotypes. In an article title “USC Sheds Conservative Image,” she wrote last December that “even on a campus where most students remain more interested in football than politics, some are beginning to see a shift to the left as student Democrats gain numbers and become more involved in the political arena.”

On the eve of the Super Tuesday primary clinching the Democratic nomination for John Kerry, Goodhill reported surprising results of a USC student caucus: Rep. Dennis Kucinich “won 50 percent of the votes in the straw poll,” she wrote.

In the run-up to the Green Party’s nominating convention in late June, she reported student disenchantment with Ralph Nader, foreshadowing his narrow defeat at the convention.

Goodhill was one of nine students nationwide chosen by CNN to contribute to its “Campus Vibe” site. Has fame gone to her head? “There is a definite thrill in being a published reporter and seeing my name and picture on the CNN Web site,” she beams.

– Diane Krieger


Management expert Yash Gupta is the new dean of the USC Marshall School of Business. He was dean of the University of Washington Business School, where he revamped the curriculum and boosted fundraising by 400 percent. Previously, he was dean of business at the University of Colorado at Denver and a chaired professor at the University of Louisville. Gupta succeeds Randolph W. Westerfield, who led the Marshall School for 11 years and now returns to teaching and research.
World-class cancer epidemiologist Brian E. Henderson has been named dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC. He joined the school in 1970 as an associate professor of pathology and has since served as founding chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine, first director of the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and first director of the new Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute. He briefly left USC in the mid-1990s to be president of the San Diego-based Salk Institute. He succeeds dean Stephen J. Ryan, who led the school for 13 years and now returns to teaching and research.
Industrialist Merwyn C. Gill ’37, a pioneer in materials science and composite technology, has been appointed an honorary trustee of USC. Gill is founder and chairman of the board of M.C. Gill Corp., the world’s largest manufacturer of cargo liners for passenger and freight aircraft. In addition to serving on the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Board of Councilors, he is a member of the Presidential Associates, Cardinal and Gold and the USC Norris Auxiliary. In 2001, he made a $7 million gift to endow the Merwyn C. Gill Foundation Composites Center at the USC Viterbi School.

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