UCLA Campus Report: New Link Between Lifestyle and Memory, More

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This week’s news includes news of a link between lifestyle and memory, a new grant for stem cell research, the restoration of the Black Mural Experience and the story of an alumnus dentist who dedicated his career to serving those in need.

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 includes news of a link between lifestyle and memory, a new grant for stem cell research, the restoration of the Black Mural Experience and the story of an alumnus dentist who dedicated his career to serving those in need.

UCLA Headlines

Poor health, lifestyle factors linked to memory complaints, even among younger adults

Early complaints often precursors to significant decline in later life, UCLA/Gallup study says

If you’re depressed, don’t get enough exercise or have high blood pressure, you may find yourself complaining more about memory problems, even if you’re a young adult, according to a new UCLA study.

UCLA researchers and the Gallup organization polled more than 18,000 people about their memory and a variety of lifestyle and health factors previously shown to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. They found that many of these risk factors increased the likelihood of self-perceived memory complaints across all adult age groups.

The findings, published in the June 4 edition of the journal PLOS ONE, may help scientists better identify how early lifestyle and health choices impact memory later in life. Examining these potential relationships, researchers say, could also help to pinpoint interventions aimed at lowering the risk of memory issues.

The 18,552 individuals polled ranged in age from 18 to 99. The known risk factors the researchers focused on included depression, lower education levels, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and smoking. They were surprised by the prevalence of memory issues among younger adults, said the study’s senior author, Dr. Gary Small, UCLA’s Parlow–Solomon Professor on Aging and director of the UCLA Longevity Center.

"In this study, for the first time, we determined these risk factors may also be indicative of early memory complaints, which are often precursors to more significant memory decline later in life," said Small, who is also a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

UCLA stem cell researcher receives $5.1 million award from state agency

California’s state stem cell agency has given UCLA’s Dr. John Chute a Research Leadership Award worth $5.1 million to support his research aimed at creating new stem cell therapies for use in medical practice.

Chute, a member of both UCLA’s Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research and UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, was the only clinician–scientist to receive a Leadership Award from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, which announced the honor May 29.

The award is intended to bolster California’s efforts in stem cell research and to help further the mission of scientists to translate scientific discoveries directly to into medical treatments and cures for patients.

Chute, a professor of hematology–oncology in the UCLA departments of medicine and radiation oncology, came to UCLA earlier this year from Duke University. His groundbreaking research focuses on hematopoietic stem cells (HSC), the cells that become blood cells, and how they grow. Specifically, he and his colleagues are exploring the mechanisms by which cells in the bone-marrow microenvironment regulate HSC self-renewal, repair and regeneration.

Among Chute’s multiple discoveries are two novel proteins that are essential to the growth of blood cells. With his knowledge and discoveries, Chute and his team can also understand how leukemia stem cells use the same mechanisms in their growth and target those growth factors with cellular therapies.

"We’ve shown that our approach of creating genetic mouse models to find proteins that regulate HSC growth works," Chute said. "We are now poised to translate some of these into Phase I clinical trials. Thus, there is strong translational value in our work and it is a validated discovery program for understanding how the microenvironment cells regulate HSC in the body."

UCLA's 'Black Experience' mural restoration now complete

A project to repair and restore an important visual piece of UCLA history is now complete. A special reception and ribbon-cutting marking the successful revitalization of "The Black Experience," a 10-foot-by-27-foot mural created in 1970 by a group of seven black UCLA art students, was held June 4.

The event, which attracted UCLA students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as members of the Los Angeles community and individuals who contributed to the project, was held as part of the year-end celebrations hosted by the Afrikan Student Union. Special guests included Neville Garrick and Helen Singleton, two of the original artists who were instrumental in helping advance the effort to bring the mural back to its glory, as well as Distinguished Professor Emerita and renowned civil rights activistAngela Davis, a former professor of Garrick’s whose image appears in the mural.

The mural is located next to Panda Express on the first floor of Ackerman Union. A false wall erected during renovations in 1992 had kept the mural hidden for two decades. The movement to uncover the mural gained momentum in fall 2012 after members of the Afrikan Student Union brought the mural to the attention of the Associated Students UCLA board of directors.

School of Dentistry alumnus honored as miracle worker at sea

Dr. Gary Parker was awarded the UCLA Medal for his humanitarianism — spending his career aboard a hospital ship providing free oral and reconstructive surgery to needy people in Africa

Kwanam, a middle-aged woman from a remote village in the northern part of the African country of Togo, made the long journey to the port city of Lomé where she had heard a hospital ship was offering free surgeries. Among the thousands waiting to be examined, Kwanam sat far from everyone else in a failed attempt to hide the stench of her chronic infected flesh. Tumors the size of softballs hung from her neck and flies swarmed around a rag she used to cover her head. As she removed the cloth, Dr. Gary Parker, saw an infected tumor, almost as large as her head, on the back of her head. It was covered with a plastic bag to try and contain the pus and odor.

Thankfully, the team of medical experts led by Parker, a UCLA-educated oral and maxillofacial surgeon, was able to help Kwanam by removing a nearly 10 pound tumor, and with it, the isolating stench that defined her for so many years.

Parker told that story recently to a packed Royce Hall during his commencement address to the 2014 graduating class from the UCLA School of Dentistry hoping to inspire them to pursue lives of service." I believe we reach significance when we define our personal success as adding value to the lives of others," advised Parker to the newly minted graduates.

It was for his career of selfless dedication helping those with congenital deformities that Chancellor Gene Block presented Parker the UCLA Medal — the university’s highest honor — during the ceremony.

"You have restored the smiles of hundreds of children and adults who had never before seen a dentist, improving their health and imparting hope for a better tomorrow," said Block as he read the citation Parker received before getting the medal. "In doing so, you selflessly embody UCLA’s mission to serve, and to apply knowledge gained to improve lives wherever you can."

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