Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Computers, Chemistry and Cancer

by Michael Schiavetta
When Adelphi senior Zachary Fallon uses molecular dynamics software to simulate how leukemia impacts the function of white blood cells, he’s not just working on a lab assignment—he’s helping to find solutions that may benefit millions of cancer patients worldwide.
Fallon is one of eight students working alongside Maria Nagan, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry, on this and related research in computational chemistry.
This relatively new field of science was born during the dawn of the modern computer age in the early 1980s. It allows scientists to predict how molecules and solids react in controlled virtual environments using advanced software. Such technology is necessary to observe and study complex interactions at the atomic level. And because the experiments are simulated on computers, scientists are able to incorporate chemical components that may ordinarily be too rare or expensive to obtain. Dr. Nagan leads computational chemistry research at Adelphi with the help of her student scientists, designing projects accessible to undergraduates but stringent enough to meet the standards of the scientific community
“This is an emerging field still in its infancy,” she said. At Adelphi, Dr. Nagan and the students in her lab use computers to model ribonucleic acid (RNA)—the acid responsible for carrying out genetic instructions—its structure and how it interacts with other molecules to understand how chemical interactions affect its shape and function. “These functions are usually key points in viral or healthy cell development,” she added. “Discerning RNA structure and interactions with other biological molecules may lead to better drug development and treatments.”
Fallon explained that he and his classmates have been working with Dr. Nagan to examine how water molecules bridge peptide-RNA complexes in retroviruses such as human T-cell leukemia and HIV. They are studying the role of water in these interactions to determine how a synthetic replacement can stop key events in the viral life cycle. “Once you understand those interactions, you can create a drug that stops it from reproducing,” Fallon added. He plans to work in the pharmaceutical industry designing structured-based drugs after earning his degree.
Dr. Nagan joined Adelphi nearly three years ago. Throughout her career, she has been awarded grants totaling approximately $2.5 million from organizations such as NASA, the National Science Foundation, Petroleum Research Fund and the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. In 2013, she was inducted into the McNair Mentor Hall of Fame and named Researcher of the Year by the Kirksville (Mo.) Chapter of Sigma Xi, a global nonprofit society of more than 80,000 scientists and engineers.
In addition to Fallon’s research (which is to be published in a peer-reviewed journal), Dr.Naganand her students are researching how modified RNA nucleobases can help produce better antibiotics. The researchers will incorporate quantum mechanics and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, combining the study of electrons with structural data, to build models of these modified bases.
Her team is also exploring one of humanity’s most intriguing philosophical and scientific questions— where life on Earth originated; specifically, the role of RNA in forming its basic building blocks. “We’re looking to find out what are the essential and minimal ingredients for life,” she said. “Where do we come from? And how can we transform life as we know it?”
This article was published in the 2016 issue of Erudition magazine. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Trauma Through the Generations

by Susan Delson
“I realized that any child born into a family by definition is going to be a bearer of the trauma of the family unless the trauma has been addressed and resolved,” Dr. O’Loughlin said. “And, unfortunately, we know that when a war occurs, or a genocide, or a refugee crisis,” the challenges of daily life are so demanding that “the majority of people are left to internalize their suffering.” He noted that philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said: “I turn into stone but my pain goes on.”As a clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and award-winning scholar of early childhood education, Michael O’Loughlin, Ph.D., a professor at Adelphi, has long been familiar with the impact of trauma on human suffering. But the more he dealt with it on the clinical level, the more he came to understand trauma as having not only personal but also social and historical dimensions.
While Dr. O’Loughlin has been studying and writing about intergenerational trauma since the mid-2000s, 2014 saw the publication of two significant contributions to the field. Coedited with Marilyn Charles, Ph.D., Fragments of Trauma and the Social Production of Suffering: Trauma, History, and Memory (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015) examines the experience of trauma in a variety of global settings, from Maori communities in New Zealand to distressed African American neighborhoods in the United States.
“That’s really a book about application of trauma to clinical or educational work,” Dr. O’Loughlin said. A companion volume, The Ethics of Remembering and the Consequences of Forgetting: Essays on Trauma, History, and Memory (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), which he edited, is “a more theoretical book, and the essays are focused primarily on trauma-related problems in different parts of the world.” Among the topics are the consequences of exhuming mass graves in Spain after the fascist era; designing a 9/11 memorial in New York City; and the effects of trauma on ongoing generations of Irish immigrants in London. 
“They’re all attempts to show how people—not only psychoanalysts but anthropologists and historians—are using this kind of theory to help understand the memories that are buried by society. Intentionally buried,” Dr. O’Loughlin said. “And how we can reclaim those memories, and hopefully use them to create a healing space for societies.”
Dr. O’Loughlin divides his teaching equally between the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education and the Gordon F. Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies, where he teaches elective courses on trauma in the Ph.D. and master’s degree programs. Two of his doctoral students are currently doing dissertations in this field: one on Lithuanian deportees in the 1950s and the other on survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings during World War II.
His own writing in this field has recently taken an autobiographical turn. “I just finished writing another chapter on my own life history and how the things that I inherited, good and bad, affected my ability to be creative and to be free in the world, or inhibited that in some respects,” he said. “And I’m entertaining the possibility of writing a book on the Irish famine and its long-term intergenerational effects.”
This article was published in the 2016 issue of Erudition magazine. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Overcoming Barriers to Better Healthcare for Families in New York’s Most Diverse Neighborhoods

by Jim H. Smith
Growing up on the outskirts of Brooklyn’s sprawling Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in the 1970s, Carolyn Springer, Ph.D., associate professor in the Gordon F. Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies, noticed that there were significant life expectancy issues related to healthcare in the community. “Many people delayed getting care until it was too late,” she said.
Dr. Springer never lost interest in that problem. As a graduate student in social psychology at Columbia University, she took a job with the New York City Department of Education. The focus was on children who were chronically missing school. Many did so because of persistent health issues such as asthma.
From 1996 to 1997, she worked for the federally funded Healthy Start program, which targeted the South Bronx, Central Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant. The program strives to prevent infant mortality in communities where the rate dramatically exceeds the national average, and where rates of low birth weight, preterm birth, maternal mortality and maternal morbidity are also significantly elevated.
“I was a senior research analyst, compiling the data for planning and program development,” Dr. Springer said. She found the work so rewarding that she decided to make it the heart of her career.
Since joining Adelphi in 2003, her research has focused on the evaluation of educational and health programs for communitybased organizations, especially those involved with maternal and child health.
Her work with the Queens Comprehensive Perinatal Council, which was founded in 1988 to coordinate maternal and child health services in Queens, is a good example. It has touched on a wide range of issues, including teenage pregnancy, fatherhood, SIDS, asthma and premature births, especially in communities with high rates of teen pregnancy and low birth weight, high percentages of women who receive late or no prenatal care, risky behavior during pregnancy and undocumented immigrant populations. “Two main issues are breastfeeding and, more recently, attitudes toward mental health,” she added.
Dr. Springer has employed a variety of research tools to explore those issues. Through surveys, focus groups and workshops, for example, she and her graduate student collaborators evaluated and addressed breastfeeding patterns among African American women whose rates of breastfeeding initiation and continuation are lower than national averages.
As a program evaluator for the Brooklyn Perinatal Network, she helped complete a comprehensive health-needs assessment for North Central Brooklyn to inform policy changes in healthcare; assisted with the network’s Centers for Disease Control–funded REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) project aimed at improving healthy living; and provided support for its Infant Mortality Reductive Initiative.
“We have seen that comprehensive approaches can lead to decreases of greater than 10 percent in infant mortality rates, that there is a greater awareness among healthcare providers of the social determinants of health and that participating in educational workshops can have a significant and positive impact on selfefficacy, knowledge and attitudes about breastfeeding,” Dr. Springer said. “It’s exciting to really see change occurring—to see families take better care of their health.”
This article was published in the 2016 issue of Erudition magazine.