University of Southern California

Research

Current Collaboration Fund Projects

2014

Brain Health During Development and Aging in Urban Environments

The adverse impact of airborne pollutants on cardio-pulmonary health appears to extend to brain aging. Urbanization is likely one of the most important demographic shifts worldwide, which has led to increased exposure to pollutants. This program brings together faculty from Gerontology, the Viterbi School of Engineering, the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Keck School of Medicine to understand the scientific basis for the impacts of pollution on the brain, and to explore the health consequences.

Leaders:
Caleb Finch, Davis School of Gerontology, Bio-Gerontology
J.C. Chen, Keck School of Medicine, Environmental Health

Center for Technology and Innovation in Pediatrics

There currently exists a great need for novel medical devices designed specifically for children, as well as the adaptation and validation of existing adult devices for children. Children differ from adults anatomically and developmentally in numerous ways. The FDA has estimated that the development of pediatric medical devices lags behind that of adult devices by 5 to 10 years. This collaboration aims to unite programs, institutes, faculty, and students at USC and CHLA, along with industry and venture capital partners, in a topic-focused, interdisciplinary, systems-oriented manner, to create the USC/CHLA Center for Technology and Innovation in Pediatrics (CTIP). CTIP will raise the impact of our individual and collective work in pediatric device development to a national level of recognition and influence, and will allow future external funding applications to become more competitive.

Leaders:
Yaniv Bar-Cohen, CHLA/Keck School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics
Jessica Rousset, CHLA, Center for Innovation
Gerald Loeb, Viterbi School of Engineering, Medical Device Development Facility
George Tolomiczenko, Keck School of Medicine & Viterbi School of Engineering, Depts of Neurology and Biomedical Engineering

Center for Biodiversity & Ecology

Biodiversity describes both the richness and the variation in all forms of life, from genes to organisms to ecosystems, in both the present and the geologic past. Diverse systems are generally viewed as robust, ecologically healthy, resource rich and economically productive, and relatively resistant to perturbations associated with human impacts or global change. The disciplinary reach of biodiversity is broad, cutting across human health and economics (e.g. ecosystem services), geology, geochemistry and earth system history (the rock record reflects biodiversity responses to regional and global perturbations); molecular, ecological and system studies in marine and terrestrial realms, and more broadly, societal well-being. This transdisciplinary nature is reflected in existing and new research funding opportunities in the basic and medical sciences that build on biodiversity research.

Leaders:
Sergey Nuzhdin, Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Molecular and Computational Biology
Roberta Marinelli, Rossier School of Education/Viterbi School of Engineering, Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies
Paul Marjoram, Keck School of Medicine of USC, Preventive Medicine

USC Institute for Integrative Health Research

For well-over 5 years there has been a clear and steady current of activity among faculty and Keck School of Medicine students directed toward the creation of a center for integrative medicine at USC. There is a great need for such a center at USC.  An increasingly large number of leading universities and medical schools in the country, including Duke, Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, and others, now offer CAM or integrative medicine within the medical student curriculum and have established centers for integrative medicine on their campuses.   However, the USC medical school curriculum currently offers only a cursory introduction to the topic.  In addition, while there are over a dozen investigators from the schools of medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy already doing integrative medicine research at USC, there is a lack of the coordination and collaboration of effort that is needed to make USC a recognized presence in the field.    This represents a particularly striking deficit considering the multicultural, multi-belief environment in which USC operates, and from which it draws many of its students.

Leaders:
Marc Weigensberg, Keck School of Medicine of USC, Pediatrics/County Hospital
Agustin Garcia, Keck School of Medicine of USC, Medicine/Oncology
Donna Spruijt-Metz, Keck School of Medicine of USC, Preventive Medicine
Jeffrey Gold, Keck School of Medicine of USC, Pediatrics/Children’s Hospital

Environmental Sustainability and the Global Economy

Environmental sustainability is one of the major challenges facing the global economy in the coming years. Our ability to meet this challenge will depend on the interactions among four main sectors: (a) industry, (b) government, (c) civil society, and (d) science/technology. USC has a growing number of faculty engaged in research and teaching on environmental sustainability in each of those areas. They are located in various units across campus, inter alia Marshall, Price, Political Science, Engineering, Annenberg, Sociology, Earth Sciences, and Chemistry. The faculty listed above as “other sponsors” represent a small proportion of a considerably larger set of faculty that our network aims to connect.

Leaders:
Paul Adler,  Marshall School of Business, Management and Organization
Jim Haw,  Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Environmental Studies
Rodger Ghanem, Viterbi School of Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Immigrant Health Initiative

This proposed project aims to extend the Immigrant Health Initiative (iHi), established in 2011 by the USC Collaboration Fund and led by a multidisciplinary team of distinguished immigration scholars at USC in developing new insights and health promotion and disease prevention strategies targeting immigrant and refugee communities living in the United States and elsewhere. Although immigrants are often viewed as possessing certain health advantages relative to native-born counterparts, these advantages quickly disappear with increasing acculturation and exposure to health risks of the dominant society. Furthermore, globalization and global climate change has accelerated the health impacts of acculturation and created a new class of “ecological refugees” that are poorly understood. Accelerated acculturation is especially evident along the U.S. Mexico border where residents on both sides experience adverse health impacts associated with migration and acculturation. Given the sheer number of immigrants in this country and their alarmingly increasing rates of obesity, hypertension, mental illness, heart disease, cancer, oral disease, and many other negative health outcomes, it is imperative to stop and reverse these disturbing trends in public health. With the participation of 12 faculty members from 8 USC schools, this collaborative project will utilize an existing critical mass at USC to address these challenges through networking across disciplines, mentoring students and junior faculty, exploring research topics, and ultimately develop a grant proposal for a Transdisciplinary Research Center for Immigrant Health at USC.

Leaders:
Lawrence Palinkas, USC School of Social Work, Social Policy and Health
Lihua Liu, Keck School of Medicine of USC, Preventive Medicine

Interdisciplinary Research Cluster on Civics and Social Media

In a world where traditional forms of citizenship, politics, and civic life are rapidly changing, how can young people become more civic–‐minded and publicly engaged? How can digital technologies, participatory media, and social networking enable them to do so, and how are definitions of “civic” and “public” co–‐evolving with these practices, online and offline? These are the central questions that guide our proposal for an interdisciplinary Civics and Social Media (CASM) research.

Scholars from a wide range of disciplines at USC are working to understand youth engagement and social media, but they arrive at the conversation through different theoretical entry points and often with different stakes. The primary goal of the CASM research cluster is to shed light on these disciplinary investments while simultaneously working to break them down, creating interdisciplinary languages through which conversations can be sustained.

Leaders:
Henry Jenkins, USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, Communication and Journalism
Kjerstin Thorson, USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, Communication and Journalism
Mike Ananny, USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, Communication and Journalism
Holly Willis, USC School of Cinematic Arts, Cinema

Plasticity and Repair in Neurodegenerative Disorders

The adult brain possesses a tremendous capacity for change in response to its environment through processes termed experience-dependent neuroplasticity. Recently this has been demonstrated to occur in neurological disorders including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia and bipolar disease as well as traumatic brain injury. Understanding the molecular underpinnings of neuroplasticity in the aging and diseased brain could provide a new innovative direction and novel insights towards the identification of new therapeutic targets for treating neurological disorders. This collaboration seeks to foster collaborative research among investigators interested in neuroplasticity. The goals of this initiative are to better understand the underlying molecular mechanisms of neurodegenerative disorders, and to carryout translational studies that include both applications of basic research findings to the clinic, as well as using clinical observations to better design studies within the lab.

Leaders:
Giselle Petzinger, Keck School of Medicine, Department of Neurology
Michael Jakowec, Keck School of Medicine, Department of Neurology
John Walsh, Davis School of Gerontology, Bio-Gerontology/Striatal Synaptic Research
Beth Fisher, Ostrow School of Dentistry, Department of Biokinesiology

Southern California Empirical Legal Studies (SCELS)

Many scholars and students at the intersection of law and social science share an interest in legal institutions and empirical methodologies. Our goal in founding Southern California Empirical Legal Studies (SCELS) is to organize this fragmented group of scholars—housed across disciplines and schools—into a cohesive cluster of active intellectuals conducting empirical research about law and legal institutions. SCELS’ focus will mirror the intellectual agenda that has emerged in important national organizations and funders, such as the National Science Foundation and the American Academy of Political and Social Science, both of which prioritize evidence-based studies when supporting research on legal institutions.1 Moreover, SCELS will position its members to participate and take advantage of interdisciplinary conferences and journals that also focus explicitly on empirical research in the law, including the Conference on Empirical Legal Studies (a conference hosted each year by a different university, including by USC in 2009) and the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies (published by Cornell University). Finally, as we note below, our group will fit well with—and advance—the interests of academic units and centers currently active in and around USC.

Leaders:
John Barnes, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Political Science
Daniel Klerman, USC Gould School of Law, Law and History

USC Health
Systems Improvement Collaborative

The complex challenges facing health care are very visible at the University and throughout Southern California. USC’s 2011 Strategic Vision notes that “Health issues affect people across the globe and the sweep of global health challenges are vast, reaching across law, business, communications, bioengineering, international relations, stem-cell research, pharmacy and other areas.”3 These issues are particularly acute in Los Angeles where immigration and inequality strain the public health care resources, malnutrition produces diseases and conditions rarely seen in developed countries, and social tensions make delivering compassionate and culturally sensitive care a difficult task. As the StrategicVision observes, “One of the markers of our age is the rising importance of cities as centers where the global and local are interwoven. Nowhere is this truer than in Los Angeles. . . . In Los Angeles, one can see tomorrow’s challenges and promises today: healthcare, immigration, grassroots action and cooperatives, malnutrition, social tensions, the effects of inequality, community outreach, engineering challenges, new forms of commerce, and conflicts of rights and responsibilities.”

Leaders:
Najmedin Meshkati, Viterbi School of Engineering, Astani Department of Civil Engineering & Epstein Department Industrial and Systems Engineering
Alexander M. Capron, Keck School of Medicine and Gould School of Law

USC Institute for Free Radical Biology & Medicine

Free Radical Biology & Medicine (FRBM) is, by nature, an interdisciplinary field. The first free radical researchers were chemists who quickly recognized the importance of one-electron (free radical) oxidation/reduction reactions. Physicists and engineers soon joined in and invented a new technology to directly study free radical species: electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy (EPR) or electron spin resonance spectroscopy (ESR). When food chemists recognized that free radical reactions cause a great deal of food spoilage, and that including antioxidants and transition metal chelators, while excluding oxygen, from packaged foods could greatly extend their commercially useful shelf-life, the field really exploded. Since the 1960’s biologists have shown that energy production by the mitochondria in all our cells involves a series of free radical reactions, as does the immune system’s response to invading microorganisms. Toxicologists and environmental scientists have shown that many herbicides and pesticides employ free radical reaction mechanisms, and pharmacists and pharmacologists have found that the toxic effects of many useful drugs (from acetaminophen to anti-cancer compounds) are caused by free radical ‘redox cycling.’

Leaders:
Kelvin Davies, Davis School of Gerontology, Gerontology
Enrique Cadenas, School of Pharmacy, Molecular Pharmacology

USC STEM Education Pipeline Consortium

We live in an era with unprecedented changes due to advances in technology. These forces of technological advances are transforming the role of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in society. With outsourcing and off-shoring of engineering and science jobs, there is a growing concern about the level of interest among young students choosing STEM fields as college majors and eventual careers. The urgent need in STEM workforces calls for a comprehensive and collaborative pipeline effort in STEM education that begins in K‐12 and extends into college and university education, resulting in a fully prepared STEM workforce. The specific aims of this consortium are to engage in collaborative research to advance the STEM pipeline through strategic planning and leveraging USC’s diverse expertise in STEM education.

Leaders:
Gisele Ragusa, Rossier School of Education/Viterbi School of Engineering
John Slaughter, Rossier School of Education/Viterbi School of Engineering
Other Participating Faculty

USC Transdisciplinary Collaboratory for Mobile and Connected Health (USC mHealth Collaboratory)

New mobile health (mHealth) technologies have the potential to reduce the cost of health care and improve health outcomes in the United States and across the globe. Today’s wireless, wearable, and deployable technologies provide unprecedented opportunities to passively capture digital ‘footprints’ that catalogue a person’s everyday behaviors, contexts, choices and even states. Data streams from a broad variety of sources – wearable and deployable sensors, social media, games, pictures and videos, location, purchase transactions, apps, and Internet use, just to name a few. We can now ubiquitously monitor physical activity, heart rate, blood pressure, stress, diet, smoking, social interactions, blood glucose, geographical location and a host of other physiological, behavioral and contextual signals in real time. Technologies like smart pill bottles and smart inhalers can monitor compliance. Wearable and deployable sensors are prolonging independent living for the elderly and disabled. Systems of wearable, deployable sensors combined with smartphones can provide real-time, personalized interventions that can be adapted on the fly as behavior changes, new data is accrued, new research comes to light, or new needs arise.  Finally, the emergence of cloud computing makes it possible to link sensors, mobile devices and powerful servers together and share data across them in a way that is transparent to the user.  These ubiquitous mobile technologies systems – powerful, networked computers always nearby – can support continuous, real-time, health monitoring and health care at both the individual and population level. Our distinctive strengths in interactive technologies, engineering, behavioral health and medicine could uniquely position USC as a major nexus for the development and testing of cutting edge user-centered technologies for treatment, prevention and health promotion across a broad swath of health domains.

Leaders:
Donna Spruijt-Metz, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Economic and Social Research/ Preventive Medicine
William Swartout, Institute for Creative Technologies, Computer Science

 

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