USC’s 117th commencement ceremony continued to be covered in the news. On Monday, May 15, ABC’s “Good Morning America” featured a report on Ty Pinkerton, the longest surviving adult recipient of a living-related, double-lobar lung transplant procedure (see story page 8). It was reported that Pinkerton recently did what was previously unthinkable: He graduated from USC’s Thornton School of Music. USC cardiothoracic surgeon Vaughn Starnes had performed the procedure seven years ago – after other physicians had ruled Pinkerton, suffering from cystic fibrosis, a lost cause. “It was a big gamble,” said Starnes. “The compelling reason we went ahead with the surgery was his mother’s advocacy.” Graduation was a day his family thought would never happen, the piece noted. “I have so much to look forward to,” said Pinkerton.
Lisa Grosskopf-Boutwell, a single mother who recently received a B.A. in biomedical engineering, was profiled in the May 26 San Gabriel Valley Weekly supplement of the Los Angeles Times. Grosskopf-Boutwell won her major’s Senior Recognition Award at commencement. “I’ve been told over and over that engineering is a man’s world and being responsible for kids is just not part of it,” she said. “But it’s time for the field to change.”
David D’Argenio’s lecture on biomedical engineering advances, part of the USC Emeriti College Public Participation series, was the subject of a story in the March 2 Palos Verdes Peninsula News. Referring to the development of the pacemaker and the insulin pump, D’Argenio said “Engineering has played a role, not only in the technology that has gone into those devices, but in helping understand the biological systems that those devices are being used to modify and replace.”
European culture expert Cornelius Schnauber, who heads USC’s Max Kade Institute for Austrian-German-Swiss Studies, was interviewed for an April 2 Los Angeles Times story on the Villa Aurora. Former home of émigré novelist and playwright Lion Feuchtwanger and his wife Marta, the Pacific Palisades villa was L.A.’s literary salon for post-WWII exiles from Europe. “It was the greatest diaspora in European cultural history,” Schnauber said. “Hitler destroyed German culture, and the Jewish émigrés carried it on. They came here because of the weather – and the film industry. Many of the big names were immediately signed by the studios.” When Marta Feuchtwanger died in 1987, the house was willed to USC; it was later sold to Berlin-based Friends of the Villa Aurora. Since 1995, the villa has been functioning as a place of cultural exchange and as a retreat for European artists.
The Chicago Tribune sought artist Ruth Weisberg’s expertise in an April 12 article about the Art Institute of Chicago’s list of more than 500 works in its collection that have either questionable or incomplete ownership histories during the Nazi era. Weisberg commented on Van Gogh’s “The Drinkers,” a painting executed during Van Gogh’s last and perhaps most productive year of life, which he spent in an asylum. “This is not the most famous of his paintings, but a painting from that period is a significant painting,” Weisberg said.
The April 29 edition of PBS’ “Think Tank With Ben Wattenberg,” on the theme of “Does Hollywood Serve Us Right?” featured a discussion with director Sydney Pollack, Variety editor in chief Peter Bart and Elizabeth M. Daley, dean of the USC School of Cinema-Television. The trio discussed the “first-weekend phenomenon” and why American movies dominate the world market, among other topics.
“Congress does not often have the opportunity to fight hypocrisy, light an ethical path and promote health in one blow. It does now,” wrote bioethicist Alexander M. Capron in a May 2 Los Angeles Times op-ed on human stem cell research that may yield cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. The Stem Cell Research Act before the Senate would permit now-banned federal funding for such research. “Congress should enact the Specter-Harkin bill,” Capron wrote. “Allowing the NIH to play its usual leadership role would maximize the payoff, not only in terms of health and knowledge, but also of ethics.” Capron also commented in a May 20 Los Angeles Times story on a California appellate court decision that an anonymous sperm donor does not have an unlimited right to privacy and can be forced to testify in legal actions alleging that his donation resulted in genetic harm to a child he helped conceive. Capron said the court’s decision was “perfectly appropriate” in determining that the welfare of a child outweighed the confidentiality interests of a sperm donor.
Computer scientist Deborah Estrin was quoted in a May 4 New York Times story on the increasing numbers of new, tiny and very smart gadgets, particularly medical devices. She said there would soon be numerous small devices used as controls and monitors in fields as varied as agriculture and environmental sensing. “It’s much more serious than whether your coffee pot is smart enough to talk to your refrigerator. This is the next dimension in scaling up the Internet.”
The opening of the School of Dentistry’s new Skid Row dental clinic at the Union Rescue Mission was covered in the May 5 issues of La Opinión and the Los Angeles Sentinel. “You don’t have much self-esteem if you don’t have your front teeth,” said Charles Goldstein, chair of community dentistry and co-founder of the clinic. “Most of the people we see need really extensive work. We see a lot of missing teeth and decay. Some of these people haven’t seen a dentist for 20 years.”
The May 7 Los Angeles Times reported that a Tongan man in San Francisco had been cited for driving under the influence – of kava tea, a legal substance widely used in Polynesian social rituals. “This is an agent that just hasn’t been studied the way chemical synthetic agents have been studied,” said clinical pharmacologist Michael Wincor. “We don’t know how much is too much, al though we do know that taking too much is certainly a possibility.”
On May 8, KCBS aired an interview with neurologist Norman Kachuck, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center at University Hospital. Kachuck discussed new multiple sclerosis treatments and reported that he is seeing good results from a clinical trial involving high doses of the drug Interferon. “There has never been a more exciting time in M.S. research,” said Kachuck.
ABCNews.com carried a May 10 report on senior citizens who cross the border into Mexico to find prescription medicine bargains. Pharmacist Brad Williams said some Los Angeles residents do it strictly because of the cost, but some have family in Mexico and stock up while visiting relatives. Some do it to keep up with their friends who brag about the great deals. “Not all of them are poor or cut off from insurance. It’s a way to stretch your budget a little. This is nothing new for Los Angeles. I’ve seen it for the past 20 years. But I would suspect it is growing some,” he said.
The world should be “very frightened” of computer viruses, said computer scientist Leonard Adleman in a May 15 International Herald Tribune story. “The maliciousness of a virus is not limited by technical obstructions but by the inventiveness of the perpetrator. … I would predict that we haven’t seen the worst possible of them.” The public’s latest wake-up call came in mid-May when the “I Love You” virus, transmitted by e-mail, destroyed computer files around the world. Adleman’s prognosis was blunt: “The Internet has no perfect defense, and it can never have a perfect defense.”
Fuzzy logic expert Bart Kosko was a guest May 17 on “Closer to Truth,” an American Public Television program aired on KOCE-TV. The program explored how the Internet would change humanity. “I think it means the end of professional monopolies, law, medicine and what I do in education,” said Kosko. “It means that all over the world people, particularly in poor countries as well as in wealthy ones, will have access to information. … Lawyers, doctors and professors will be given a run for their money.”
On May 17 KNBC-TV reported on the USC/Norris’ Image Enhancement Center, a center specializing in makeovers for cancer patients. “We’re hoping that, in time, every hospital will be able to provide something like this,” said coordinator Elizabeth Munoz. “Appearance is more than half of the recovery process,” said certified appearance specialist Ondine Fink. “Be sides having cancer, the next thing you worry about is your hair,” added a patient who was so impressed by the center that she’s decided to volunteer there.
The May 17 Los Angeles Times Business section carried a story on four USC School of Cinema-Television students – Jonathan Abrams, Jeremy Bell, George F. Heller and Michael Lasker – who last fall launched FourSight Entertainment, a management company for new talent, drawn largely from USC. “Kids get out of school and they find doors closed,” said film historian Drew Casper. “Some of them, not all … have pretty good stuff. These guys are working for that shadow kingdom, getting doors to open. They’re tapping a market that kind of falls through the cracks.”
Space habitat expert Madhu Thangavelu was quoted in a May 18 New York Times story, “Cruise in the Caribbean? How About a Week in Lunar Orbit.” The story concerned the surprising number of scientists, architects and engineers making plans for space tourism. “When you’re removed from gravity, you’re not used to functioning with that force gone out of you,” said Thangavelu. “How do we keep people happy under these constraints?”
Brain Project Director Michael Arbib was quoted in a May 18 Los Angeles Times article that explored the brain’s use of mimicry to develop motor, communication and social skills. The ability to imitate other people’s behavior “extends crucially to language, where we must be able to imitate others to acquire the words and grammar that characterize our own [native] language,” said Arbib.
A May 19 Associated Press story reported on a recent study that suggests that biology and evolution are behind deep differences in how males and females deal with stress. The article noted that molecular pharmacologist Jean Chen Shih’s own studies have found that male mice will fight an intruder placed in their cage. Females will not. “I’m just thinking when I’m stressed, what do I do?” she added. “I think that I talk to my friends. … In general, men don’t.”
Singer Tierney Sutton, a voice instructor in the jazz department, was profiled in the Valley Life section of the May 19 Los Angeles Times. Sutton, referred to as “one of Los Angeles’ brightest lights,” said, “The best sing ers sound like an insrumentalist, and vice versa.”
Computational biologist Pavel Pevzner was quoted in a May 22 Los Angeles Times article forecasting developments in biology and medicine that will follow the completed Human Genome Project. “People in white robes will definitely exist in the future, doing brilliant research,” he said. “But it wouldn’t be crazy to think that 10 years from now, 50 percent of biologists will be essentially working on computers.”
Dentist Thomas Pallasch was quoted in a May 22 WebMD story about anti-bacterial soaps. The story concerned a study showing that the use of the cleaning agents was contributing to “the explosion of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.” “This study is very important,” said Pallasch, noting that 17 million people worldwide die annually from infectious diseases. Consumers should “resist the use of antibiotics [in general] for situations where they are not indicated,’’ said Pallasch.
The May 22 Los Angeles Times reported on the possible risks of knuckle-cracking and other joint-bending stunts. Orthopedic surgeon Donald Longjohn and rheumatologist Daniel Arkfeld said people who develop the ability to dislocate a shoulder or some other joint at will, and who get into the habit of doing it as a party trick, can damage their joints. But any link between arthritis and knuckle-cracking is unproved, both doctors added.
On May 23, MTV aired “The Tom Green Cancer Special,” which followed the 28-year-old Green as he underwent treatment for testicular cancer at the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. The show included a look at the operation and interviews with Norris medical staff. “I was going to live this secret life with one testicle,” Green said, explaining his reaction after the cancerous testicle was removed. When he needed a second operation to remove and test lymph nodes in his abdomen, he decided to take the cameras along. Although testicular cancer ac counts for only 1 percent to 2 percent of male cancers, explained urologist Donald Skinner, it is the most common form among men 15 to 35 years old.
On the May 25 edition of KCET’s “Life and Times,” art scholar Richard Meyer discussed the re-creation of Robert Mapplethorpe’s “The Perfect Moment,” on view at the Santa Monica Museum of Art through June 10. “I think that [Mapplethorpe] is admired because of the ways in which he brought a certain formal and technical craftsmanship to bear on images and subject matter that people thought could never be beautiful or didn’t have any place in the space of the art museum,” said Meyer.
“The fundamental difference between Chile and Peru that is underlined by this year’s election has to do with institutions,” wrote international relations expert Abraham Lowenthal in a May 26 Los Angeles Times op-ed that compared and contrasted presidential elections in Chile and Peru. “Chile’s robust political and civic institutions survived the Pinochet period and have helped build problem-solving capacities and a sense of national community. Peru’s historically weak civic institutions have been further undermined and eroded by the Fujimori period of cynicism, manipulation and impunity.” Lowenthal op-eds on the Elian Gonzalez affair and on aid to Columbia appeared in the April 13 and March 31 issues of the Times, respectively.
A May 19 USC University Hospital press conference announced the successful outcome of a “first” in the evolving field of live donor organ transplants. Two strangers now share a bond for life after surgeons removed half of one’s healthy liver in order to transplant it into the other, who had been on the national organ waiting list for over two years. The donor, who is reportedly the first to give part of a liver to a recipient he didn’t know, said, “I have a very wonderful life, and I just wanted to give somebody the chance to get a grip on theirs.” “The liver is the only organ able to regrow and should regenerate inside both men in about six weeks,” said hepatologist Jacob Korula. Media covering the event included all local TV and radio stations, CNN, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Associated Press.
Behavior analyst Henry Slucki was featured in a May 20 Los Angeles Times article on Spanish efforts to save Jewish refugees during World War II. Slucki and his parents – along with many others fleeing Hitler’s forces – were spirited from Nazi-occupied France to Spain across the Pyrenees by Spanish guides and kept safe in Spain until they could immigrate to the United States. “Our family’s slogan was to always stay one kilometer ahead of the Germans,” said Slucki.
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