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Impact Magazine

College News - Fall 2021

MMBIO: Cracking the Code on Multiple Sclerosis
By Sydney Springer

Amy Hernandez’s friend was only seventeen years old when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that deteriorates the body. The sudden, very early onset diagnosis prompted Hernandez (’23) to conduct hours of research under her mentor, microbiology and molecular biology professor Mary Davis, to answer the question: why is early MS onset in ethnic minorities reached at an earlier age than in Caucasian populations?

Amy Hernandez
Photo by Amy Hernandez

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system, sometimes leading to the inability to walk or function independently. Some individuals experience long periods of remission, and others have frequent attacks. After watching her friend relapse three times in six months, Hernandez was driven to research this life-altering disease.

Hernandez was inspired by the ongoing research about this condition, particularly because the onset age for MS in people of color (~27) is lower than the average onset age for Caucasian populations (~30). Her research examines EMRs (electronic medical records) for patterns in those with MS diagnoses. Through her research, Hernandez’s intends “to understand and fix the small gap of knowledge” and hopefully make a change for ethnic minorities carrying the genetic code for this disease.

BIO: Scientists Discover Antarctic Dead Zone
By Todd Hollingshead

An expedition to uncover the most lifeless part of Earth may have also given clues to life on other planets.

Biology professor Byron Adams led an expedition through the remote Shackleton Glacier in Antarctica, including trips up two mountains, both rising at 7,000 feet above sea level. It was there that scientists from both BYU and the University of Colorado found mountainous soil that contained no living organisms, a phenomenon that is unheard of by science.

Antarctic dead zone
Photo by Byron Adams

“A gram of soil has like a billion cells living in it, but we couldn’t find a single cell in this soil,” Adams says.

The PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) in the soil samples used to detect DNA unearthed no microbes at all. The scientists concluded that low temperatures, extremely low water levels, and constant exposure to deposited salts created the unhabitable environment. Additionally, the soil has high concentrations of chlorates and perchlorates, corrosive salts used in bleach and rocket fuel. These toxic salts are also found on Mars.

“These soils are as close to what you’d find on Mars as you would anywhere on Earth,” Adams says. Extremely high altitudes and chlorate salts, as found in these Antarctic mountains, are indicators that there will be little to no life in the area. Some researchers believe that bacteria will grow when soils such as these are heated, so whether or not they are completely devoid of life is still debated. However, this is still the closest scientists have ever come to finding an absolute dead zone on planet Earth.

More information on this discovery has been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, and featured in National Geographic.

CELL BIO: Electromagnetic Diabetes Prevention
By Hannah LeSueur

Collaborative researchers from BYU and the University of Iowa have discovered that electromagnetic fields may be used noninvasively prevent and control type 2 diabetes.

Like most biological systems, healthy human metabolism is characterized by a fine-tuned balance between antioxidants and oxidants (called “redox state”). In chronic metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, redox state is disrupted. This disruption can alter glucose metabolism and insulin effectiveness, and can lead to disease-related inflammation.

Insulin molecules. Insulin is a protein hormone that regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates
Photo by iStock

In this study, researchers showed that electromagnetic fields promote a healthier redox state and effectively treat mice with type 2 diabetes with only seven hours of exposure per day.

In humans, type 2 diabetes often requires patients to closely monitor blood glucose levels and self-administer medications throughout the day. Inconsistencies in monitoring and treating can greatly impact the health of the individual. This electromagnetic method may be a way for people to passively treat their diabetes in their sleep.

Dr. Jason Hansen, BYU professor of cell biology and physiology, in collaboration with Dr. Val Sheffield, Dr. Calvin Carter, and Dr. Sunny Huang from the University of Iowa, are continuing this project to validate these effects in diabetic pigs, an animal that is evolutionarily closer to humans than mice.

PWS: A Megafire Induced Erosion Near Utah Lake
By Christie Allen

As Hurricane Rosa hurtled toward Baja, California in October 2018, two BYU students spotted a valuable research opportunity. Utah County, still smoldering from the devastating Pole Creek megafire that same year, was forecast to receive days of heavy rain in the wake of the hurricane’s landfall.

Trevor Crandall (’20) and Erin Jones (’19) worked with plant and wildlife sciences professor Ben Abbott to prepare equipment and measure the interaction between intense rain and fire. After a month of urgently sampling ten locations scattered across three river networks, the team found a 2,000-fold increase in sediment flux compared to unburned areas. This created a plume of ash and soil moving into Utah Lake that was visible from space. “That means that just this one storm moved as much sediment as the river would typically move in 100 to 200 years,” Abbott said.

Photo by BYU Photo

The team also measured a 6,000-fold increase in particulate carbon and nitrogen washed from the burn scars. These changes may spell trouble for the people and organisms that rely on Utah Lake’s aquatic ecosystem, so Abbott encourages citizens to be informed about wildfires and reduce their negative environmental impact. “If we protect our green spaces and vulnerable environmental areas, our population can grow while maintaining basically the current footprint we have now,” Abbott said.

This study was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE in a special issue on freshwater ecosystems.

EXSC: BYU Joins Medical Schools on $4 Million NFL Study
By Todd Hollingshead

BYU is one of four universities partnering on a new $4 million NFL grant to study the prevention and treatment of hamstring injuries among football players.

This is the first NFL-funded study on hamstring injuries, the most common injury suffered by NFL players, with nearly 75% of such injuries resulting in missed time for NFL players.

The project aims to 1) determine what musculoskeletal characteristics might make an athlete more disposed to hamstring injuries, and 2) identify better processes for injury mitigation and prevention. Researchers at BYU, including BYU Athletics Coordinator of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Brett Mortensen, will systematically image the hamstrings of every football player annually and follow up with MRIs for those who suffer hamstring injuries.

21FTB vs Utah 04701
Photo by Carter Bennett/BYU

“We’ll look at the muscles, look at strength, look at previous injuries and then make models to see if we can come up with a predictive algorithm for who might get hamstring injuries for the first time,” Mortensen said. “If we can identify those things, then we can identify better ways to intervene and hopefully prevent injuries.”

As the only participating university that does not house a medical school, BYU joins lead researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and those at the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia on the multi-year effort.

NDFS: Serving the Community
By Taylor Nelson

Dietetics students focus on community outreach to help citizens lead healthy, nutritious lives.

NDFS college news pic
Photo by Saamia Andersen

Saamia Andersen (’21) is participating in Utah County Health Department’s Eat Well Utah Initiative, a statewide program to make healthy food options more accessible to residents. She and her student group are working with elementary schools to promote the benefits of proper hydration.

In addition, Andersen and other students are writing a paper on diversity and inclusion in the field of dietetics. The paper addresses how nutritionists can be mindful of religious dietary practices when helping their clients, particularly Muslim clients who practice a Halal diet.

“This one was really personal for me because my whole family is Muslim,” said Andersen, whose family is from Pakistan. “Learning about these practices helps me to better help them.”

PH: Increasing Diversity in Cancer Clinical Trials
By Emma Freestone

Motivated by the low representation of minority groups in clinical cancer trials nationwide, students from BYU’s Department of Public Health partnered with the Huntsman Cancer Institute in an educational outreach program. The project focused on increasing diversity in the four types of cancer trials, including: screening, clinical, diagnosis, and end of life.

increasing diversity in cancer clinical trials
Photo by iStock

The students presented their educational materials to The Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition (UPIHC), as well as several Hispanic groups. A survey was administered before and after the presentation to evaluate the efficacy of the educational materials.

Public health student Kirsten Novilla (’22) said, “We found there were gaps in understanding what clinical trials are along with other misunderstandings.” Using the educational materials, the students were able to clarify misunderstandings and teach the group about the importance of clinical trials.