UCLA Campus Report: A Light that "Zaps" Viruses, More

The sign on Ackerman - Achilles

A look at some of the non-sports stories making headlines around campus

An occasional report from around campus that recognizes that UCLA is a school with a world-class reputation for research and innovation and whose people make real impact on the real world:

This week's news focuses on medical research, including a light that stops viruses from infecting cells, how 'big data' can be used to monitor HIV and drug-related behavior and how to do marriage therapy, without therapy.

UCLA Headines

Light zaps viruses: How photosensitization can stop viruses from infecting cells

A UCLA-led team of researchers has found evidence that photosensitizing a virus's membrane covering can inhibit its ability to enter cells and potentially lead to the development of stronger, cheaper medications to fight a host of tough viruses.

The UCLA AIDS Institute study, published in the February issue of the Journal of Virology, is part of ongoing research on a compound called LJ001, a "broad-spectrum" antiviral that can attack a wide range of microbes.

The current paper advances the science by showing that the process of photosensitization - heightening a biological organism's sensitivity to certain damaging processes induced by light - applies to more than just LJ001. This could pave the way for a cost-effective way to make blood products safer, which is particularly important in resource-poor countries where deadly viruses run rampant.

There are two categories of viruses: lipid-enveloped and non-enveloped. Enveloped viruses, including many that are of great public health concern, have a membrane that serves as a mechanism through which the microbe inserts its genome into a host cell, infecting it.

Photosensitizers, which have the ability to damage a virus's genetic material, can in many cases prevent infection, according to first author Frederic Vigant, who conducted the study as a postdoctoral researcher in microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

"The ability of photosensitizers to inactivate many different viruses has been known for decades," Vigant said, pointing out their well-known ability to cross-link the DNA and RNA of lipid-enveloped viruses, causing irreversible damage. "It must have seemed so obvious this was how photosensitizers work that no one ever looked in detail at the oxidation of the lipids. Oxidation of lipids by light - termed photo-oxidation - is also very well known."

Twitter 'big data' can be used to monitor HIV and drug-related behavior, UCLA study shows

Real-time social media like Twitter could be used to track HIV incidence and drug-related behaviors with the aim of detecting and potentially preventing outbreaks, a new UCLA-led study shows.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Preventive Medicine, suggests it may be possible to predict sexual risk and drug use behaviors by monitoring tweets, mapping where those messages come from and linking them with data on the geographical distribution of HIV cases. The use of various drugs had been associated in previous studies with HIV sexual risk behaviors and transmission of infectious disease.

"Ultimately, these methods suggest that we can use 'big data' from social media for remote monitoring and surveillance of HIV risk behaviors and potential outbreaks," said Sean Young, assistant professor of family medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and co-director of the Center for Digital Behavior at UCLA.

Founded by Young, the new interdisciplinary center brings together academic researchers and private sector companies to study how social media and mobile technologies can be used to predict and change behavior. (See the center's Twitter account.)

Therapy for your marriage - without the therapy

Instead of trying to get your way find a 'third way,' advises new book coauthored by UCLA professor

Is it possible to observe an argument with your spouse from the vantage point of an objective observer? If you could, would you behave differently?

"Advice, especially about marriage and relationships, is easy to give, hard to take and even harder to implement," said Andrew Christensen, UCLA professor of psychology and lead author of "Reconcilable Differences: Rebuild Your Relationship by Rediscovering the Partner You Love - Without Losing Yourself" (Guilford Press). The book avoids simple-minded, one-size-fits-all advice and helps readers to solve issues in their own relationships.

"Reconcilable Differences" was first published to wide acclaim in 2000. The new second edition is substantially enhanced, with dozens of new questions readers can use to assess their relationships and relationship conflicts - and instruction on how to interpret the answers - plus new exercises and tips. The book can be an effective, convenient, inexpensive alternative to face-to-face therapy, said Christensen, who has worked with hundreds of couples over more than 30 years and trained many couples therapists.

The new volume applies not only to married heterosexual couples, but, to a much larger extent, to gay and lesbian couples as well.

UCLA in the News

Who Uses Public Transportation?

An article in Wednesday's Governing magazine highlighting the socioeconomic differences that separate riders of public transportation from car drivers cited research by Brian Taylor, director of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies and a professor of urban planning at UCLA's Luskin School of Public Affairs, on income-level differences that exist among riders of different forms of public transportation.

Measuring Pollution From Refineries

An article in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times about a project to measure and report the amount of pollution coming from a Southern California oil refinery cited a study by researchers from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health that will look at levels of benzene, a carcinogenic compound, in the neighborhood surrounding the refinery.

Edward Leamer

Leamer, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast and Chauncey J. Medberry Professor of Management at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, was quoted Saturday in a San Gabriel Valley Tribune article about problems facing the manufacturing industry in Southern California.

Neglected Kids and 'Indiscriminate Friendliness'

A story on today's NPR "Morning Edition" about how childhood neglect can affect brain structure highlighted research by Dr. Aviva Olsavsky, a resident physician in psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, and Dr. Nim Tottenham, a UCLA associate professor of psychology, that found that children who have experienced profound neglect are more prone to a behavior known as "indiscriminate friendliness," characterized by an inappropriate willingness to approach adults, including strangers. Tottenham was interviewed.

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