Arthur Ashe’s Most Impactful Serve – The National Junior Tennis League

Fifty-one years ago, Arthur Ashe became the first (and last) African American man to win the U.S. Open, which begins tomorrow. As is fitting, last year the tennis community celebrated this remarkable achievement. This year, however, marks a 50-year milestone that likely meant much more to Ashe, and has truly shaped America’s communities with a positive and lasting effect that extends far beyond the sport of tennis, yet has received far less attention.

If we are looking to impact, and the ability to make a difference for young people from families of modest means, Ashe’s most meaningful contribution to the world – and there were many – arguably came as a result of a partnership with his fellow UCLA alum, Charles “Charlie” Pasarell and Sheridan “Sherry” Snyder (UVA) in the form of the National Junior Tennis League, now National Junior Tennis and Learning.

The three friends and accomplished athletes decided 50 years ago that the sport of tennis deserved the presence and participation of all Americans, including those who didn’t belong to country clubs or with the means to travel or hire coaches, all the accoutrements of success desirable in those days, and the result was the establishment of the NJTL. Ashe insisted that the organization be more than about bringing the talent of the inner city to tennis courts; he advocated for the creation of academic support programs for each chapter. This was idea was transformative.

Building the NJTL was not an easy feat – the founders had to convince the mayors of cities to endorse using their tennis courts for this programming. They convinced companies like Coca-Cola, Chase and many others to become financial sponsors. The friends diligently recruited competent coaches willing to work for a pittance with young people less privileged than those they may have coached in the past. Children of color had to be encouraged to see themselves as tennis players. To its credit, in 1985 the United States Tennis Association (USTA) took over the administration of NJTL, but Ashe, Pasarell and Snyder remained, as we say today, “all in.”

One of Ashe’s protégés shared with me the story of having Ashe himself watch him play tennis when he was a young man. As a black college student, he hoped tennis would be his ticket to success.  Ashe watched him play several times and several times the tennis phenom couched his assessment that while the young man would be a good tennis player, he didn’t have the skill set to thrive at the professional level by saying, “So you are keeping up your grade point average, right?” The protégée took the hint, kept his GPA high and with that coaching, became a successful business man who now keeps up his tennis game at the country club where he holds a membership. This of course, is just one small example of Ashe’s personal impact.

To be sure, it is challenging to single out which of Arthur Ashe’s many accomplishments is the most significant. Because I teach a focused freshman seminar called Fiat Lux on Arthur Ashe and oversee the Arthur Ashe Legacy Fund at UCLA, I am often asked to weigh in on what he should be most remembered for. Given what he packed in during his 49-year life, this is a bit of a fool’s errand.  After all, his tennis accomplishments are etched in the record books—in addition to the U.S. Open, he was the first (and last) African American male to win the finals at Wimbledon (1975).

But aside from his well-known successes on the court, off the court he was never still. He was a quiet but effective friend to the Civil Rights movement in the United States and became an ardent and respected advocate for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.  His commitment to social justice causes was life-long; within months of his death he was arrested for protesting what he had concluded was the unfair treatment of Haitian immigrants.

When Ashe was afflicted with heart disease in his mid-30s, he agreed to tell his story for the American Heart Association as part of its campaign to encourage Americans to know the warning signs of cardiac disease. While such a public proclamation seems tame today, in the 1970s, there was significant reputational risk in letting the public know of his weakened condition. His HIV-AIDS diagnosis in 1988 coincided with the dark early days when the disease and those who suffered from it endured enormous and often intractable stigma. While he didn’t immediately go public with his situation, once he did, he was all in as a spokesperson for research and fair treatment for sufferers.  Prior to his death and thanks to the tireless efforts of his wife following it, millions of dollars were secured for research.

And yet, according to the many members of the NJTL community that are celebrating this 50-year anniversary, Ashe was to the very last devoted to the cause of raising up young people in diverse communities. He was as willing to run drills with and coach during the first years of the program, when he was a tennis star himself, as he was in the last summers of his life, when he was afflicted with HIV.

No male African American has surpassed Ashe’s tennis achievements—a dispiriting fact that would sadden him profoundly. But his other legacy, off the court, is just as compelling, if not more so, than his profound achievements as an athlete. It is not an exaggeration to say that because of the shared passion and unflagging engagement of Ashe, Pasarell and Snyder, tens of thousands of young people from New York, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and other cities went from their playgrounds to college to positions and lifestyles commensurate with their highest goals.

Ashe never stopped championing equality and community through the NJTL – a remarkable legacy that has resounding and relevant impact even today.

 

Patricia Turner is senior dean of the UCLA College, and dean and vice provost of UCLA’s Division of Undergraduate Education. Turner is an expert in World Arts and Cultures and African-American Studies, and teaches a freshman seminar on Arthur Ashe’s significant accomplishments.

Minds Matter: Raising the Curtain on Depression and Anxiety

Photo of Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player Kevin Love and UCLA College’s Clinical Psychology expert Michelle Craske.

Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player Kevin Love and UCLA College’s Clinical Psychology expert Michelle Craske.

UCLA students, community members and supporters joined Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player Kevin Love and UCLA College’s Clinical Psychology expert Michelle Craske for a standing-room only hybrid class and public lecture on Monday, August 19, for “Minds Matter: Raising the Curtain on Depression and Anxiety,” a free hour-long discussion on the causes of depression and anxiety, public stigma, and potential advances for the future. The series was the first in an ongoing exploration of brain health that will continue with additional events focusing on bullying, aging well, and other topics.

Love, an NBA Champion and five-time NBA All-Star for the Cleveland Cavaliers, has publicly discussed his struggle with panic attacks and anxiety and his decision to seek therapy, and has become a leading voice in mental health advocacy and founded the Kevin Love Fund in 2018 with the mission of inspiring people to live their healthiest lives while providing the tools to achieve physical and emotional well-being.

“Mental health isn’t just an athlete thing, it’s an issue that affects everyone in some way. The more we can normalize the conversation around mental health, the more we can do to help those that are struggling,” said Love. “My goal in sharing my personal experience is to connect with others who are going through something and keep this dialogue top of mind.”

Michelle G. Craske is a UCLA Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, Director of the Anxiety and Depression Research Center, and Associate Director of the Staglin Family Music Center for Behavioral and Brain Health. Craske has published extensively in the area of fear, anxiety and depression.

“We need to work together to bring anxiety and depression out of the dark. People who suffer will only seek help when they can do so without fear of shame. Event series such as ‘Minds Matter’ aim to shed a light on these critical issues, and to help make a positive breakthrough,” said Craske.

Craske also is Director of the Innovative Treatment Network within the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge, a campus-wide effort to cut the global burden of depression in half. The innovative treatment component, which Craske leads, seeks to develop novel and more effective treatments for depression and anxiety and increase the scalability and accessibility of existing evidence-based treatments.

The “Minds Matter” series leverages the strengths of UCLA College’s Psychology faculty as well as high-profile guests who provide specialized insight about the discussion topic. Upcoming sessions will include discussions on addiction, adolescent brain development and behavior, bullying, healthy aging, and thriving under stress. The “Minds Matter” series is made possible through the longstanding UCLA College and Geffen Playhouse partnership and the generous support of donors.

Check back for information on future “Minds Matter” events at  https://www.college.ucla.edu/minds-matter/.

Technique could make better membranes for next-generation filtration

Photo of researchers in lab.

UCLA doctoral student Mackenzie Anderson, postdoctoral scholar Brian McVerry and professor Richard Kaner. Photo Credit: Marc Roseboro/UCLA

Deriving drinkable water from seawater, treating wastewater and conducting kidney dialysis are just a few important processes that use a technology called membrane filtration.

The key to the process is the membrane filter — a thin, semi-porous film that allows certain substances such as water to pass through while separating out other, unwanted substances. But in the past 30 years, there have been no significant improvements in the materials that make up the key layers of commercially produced membrane filters.

Now, UCLA researchers have developed a new technique called thin-film liftoff, or T-FLO, for creating membrane filters. The approach could offer a way for manufacturers to produce more effective and energy-efficient membranes using high-performance plastics, metal-organic frameworks and carbon materials. To date, limitations in how filters are fabricated have prevented those materials from being viable in industrial production.

A study describing the work is published in the journal Nano Letters.

“There are a lot of materials out there that in the lab can do nice separations, but they’re not scalable,” said Richard Kaner, UCLA’s Dr. Myung Ki Hong Professor of Materials Innovation and the study’s senior author. “With this technique, we can take these materials, make thin films that are scalable, and make them useful.”

In addition to their potential for improving types of filtration that are performed using current technology, membranes produced using T-FLO could make possible an array of new forms of filtration, said Kaner, who also is a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and of materials science and engineering, and a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA. For example, the technique might one day make it feasible to pull carbon dioxide out of industrial emissions — which would enable the carbon to be converted to fuel or other applications while also reducing pollution.

Filters like the ones used for desalination are called asymmetric membranes because of their two layers: a thin but dense “active” layer that rejects particles larger than a specific size, and a porous “support” layer that gives the membrane structure and allows it to resist the high pressures used in reverse osmosis and other filtering processes. The first asymmetric membrane for desalination was devised by UCLA engineers in the 1960s.

Today’s asymmetric membranes are made by casting the active layer onto the support layer, or casting both concurrently. But to manufacture an active layer using more advanced materials, engineers have to use solvents or high heat — both of which damage the support layer or prevent the active layer from adhering.

In the T-FLO technique, the active layer is cast as a liquid on a sheet of glass or metal and cured to make the active layer solid. Next, a support layer made of epoxy reinforced with fabric is added and the membrane is heated to solidify the epoxy.

The use of epoxy in the support layer is the innovation that distinguishes the T-FLO technique — it enables the active layer to be created first so that it can be treated with chemicals or high heat without damaging the support layer.

The membrane then is submerged in water to wash out the chemicals that induce pores in the epoxy and to loosen the membrane from the glass or metal sheet.

Finally, the membrane is peeled off of the plate with a blade — the “liftoff” that gives the method its name.

“Researchers around the world have demonstrated many new exciting materials that can separate salts, gases and organic materials more effectively than is done industrially,” said Brian McVerry, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar who invented the T-FLO process and is the study’s co-first author. “However, these materials are often made in relatively thick films that perform the separations too slowly or in small samples that are difficult to scale industrially.

“We have demonstrated a platform that we believe will enable researchers to use their new materials in a large, thin, asymmetric membrane configuration, testable in real-world applications.”

The researchers tested a membrane produced using T-FLO for removing salt from water, and it showed promise for solving one of the common problems in desalination, which is that microbes and other organic material can clog the membranes. Although adding chlorine to the water can kill the microbes, the chemical also causes most membranes to break down. In the study, the T-FLO membrane both rejected the salt and resisted the chlorine.

In other experiments, the new membrane was also able to remove organic materials from solvent waste and to separate greenhouse gases.

Mackenzie Anderson, a UCLA doctoral student, is co-first author of the study.

The research was supported by the U.S./China Clean Energy Research Center for Water-Energy Technologies and the National Science Foundation. The project is aligned with UCLA’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge.

Among the many other devices developed by Kaner’s laboratory is a commercial membrane that separates oil from water and cleans up the debris left by fracking. Fracking is a technique that uses high-pressure mixes of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to extract gas and oil from shale rock.

Kaner is among the world’s most highly cited scientific researchers, and he was one of the 2019 recipients of the American Institute of Chemists’ Chemical Pioneer Award, which honors chemists and chemical engineers for contributions that advance the science of chemistry or the chemical profession.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Biochemists discover new insights into what may go awry in brains of people with Alzheimer’s

Photo of two researchers in lab.

Research by UCLA professor Steven Clarke and former graduate student Rebeccah Warmack, as well as UCLA colleagues, reveals new information about the brain’s biochemistry.

More than three decades of research on Alzheimer’s disease have not produced any major treatment advances for those with the disorder, according to a UCLA expert who has studied the biochemistry of the brain and Alzheimer’s for nearly 30 years. “Nothing has worked,” said Steven Clarke, a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “We’re ready for new ideas.” Now, Clarke and UCLA colleagues have reported new insights that may lead to progress in fighting the devastating disease.

Scientists have known for years that amyloid fibrils — harmful, elongated, water-tight rope-like structures — form in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, and likely hold important clues to the disease. UCLA Professor David Eisenberg and an international team of chemists and molecular biologists reported in the journal Nature in 2005 that amyloid fibrils contain proteins that interlock like the teeth of a zipper. The researchers also reported their hypothesis that this dry molecular zipper is in the fibrils that form in Alzheimer’s disease, as well as in Parkinson’s disease and two dozen other degenerative diseases. Their hypothesis has been supported by recent studies.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia among older adults, is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that kills brain cells, gradually destroys memory and eventually affects thinking, behavior and the ability to carry out the daily tasks of life. More than 5.5 million Americans, most of whom are over 65, are thought to have dementia caused by Alzheimer’s.

The UCLA team reports in the journal Nature Communications that the small protein beta amyloid, also known as a peptide, that plays an important role in Alzheimer’s has a normal version that may be less harmful than previously thought and an age-damaged version that is more harmful.

Rebeccah Warmack, who was a UCLA graduate student at the time of the study and is its lead author, discovered that a specific version of age-modified beta amyloid contains a second molecular zipper not previously known to exist. Proteins live in water, but all the water gets pushed out as the fibril is sealed and zipped up. Warmack worked closely with UCLA graduate students David Boyer, Chih-Te Zee and Logan Richards; as well as senior research scientists Michael Sawaya and Duilio Cascio.

What goes wrong with beta amyloid, whose most common forms have 40 or 42 amino acids that are connected like a string of beads on a necklace?

The researchers report that with age, the 23rd amino acid can spontaneously form a kink, similar to one in a garden hose. This kinked form is known as isoAsp23. The normal version does not create the stronger second molecular zipper, but the kinked form does.

“Now we know a second water-free zipper can form, and is extremely difficult to pry apart,” Warmack said. “We don’t know how to break the zipper.”

The normal form of beta amyloid has six water molecules that prevent the formation of a tight zipper, but the kink ejects these water molecules, allowing the zipper to form.

When one of its amino acids forms a kink, beta amyloid creates a harmful molecular zipper, shown here in green. Photo credit: Rebeccah Warmack/UCLA

When one of its amino acids forms a kink, beta amyloid creates a harmful molecular zipper, shown here in green.
“Rebeccah has shown this kink leads to faster growth of the fibrils that have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease,” said Clarke, who has conducted research on biochemistry of the brain and Alzheimer’s disease since 1990. “This second molecular zipper is double trouble. Once it’s zipped, it’s zipped, and once the formation of fibrils starts, it looks like you can’t stop it. The kinked form initiates a dangerous cascade of events that we believe can result in Alzheimer’s disease.”

Why does beta amyloid’s 23rd amino acid sometimes form this dangerous kink?

Clarke thinks the kinks in this amino acid form throughout our lives, but we have a protein repair enzyme that fixes them.

“As we get older, maybe the repair enzyme misses the repair once or twice,” he said. “The repair enzyme might be 99.9% effective, but over 60 years or more, the kinks eventually build up. If not repaired or if degraded in time, the kink can spread to virtually every neuron and can do tremendous damage.”

“The good news is that knowing what the problem is, we can think about ways to solve it,” he added. “This kinked amino acid is where we want to look.”

The research offers clues to pharmaceutical companies, which could develop ways to prevent formation of the kink or get the repair enzyme to work better; or by designing a cap that would prevent fibrils from growing.

Clarke said beta amyloid and a much larger protein tau — with more than 750 amino acids — make a devastating one-two punch that forms fibrils and spreads them to many neurons throughout the brain. All humans have both beta amyloid and tau. Researchers say it appears that beta amyloid produces fibrils that can lead to tau aggregates, which can spread the toxicity to other brain cells. However, exactly how beta amyloid and tau work together to kill neurons is not yet known.

In this study, Warmack produced crystals, both the normal and kinked types, in 15 of beta amyloid’s amino acids. She used a modified type of cryo-electron microscopy to analyze the crystals. Cryo-electron microscopy, whose development won its creators the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry, enables scientists to see large biomolecules in extraordinary detail. Professor Tamir Gonen pioneered the modified microscopy, called microcrystal electron diffraction, which enables scientists to study biomolecules of any size.

Eisenberg is UCLA’s Paul D. Boyer Professor of Molecular Biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Other researchers are co-author Gonen, a professor of biological chemistry and physiology at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator; and Jose Rodriguez, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry who holds the Howard Reiss Career Development Chair.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the UCLA Longevity Center’s Elizabeth and Thomas Plott Chair in Gerontology, which Clarke held for five years.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Addressing Africa’s Pressing Challenges: Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation Gives $1 Million to UCLA’s Congo Basin Institute

The Congo Basin Institute creates a bridge between UCLA and Africa, which is expected to be home to 40% of the world’s population by the end of the century.

UCLA has received a $1 million donation from the Anthony & Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation to support UCLA’s Congo Basin Institute.

The funds will advance the institute’s core mission of finding sustainable solutions to food and water insecurity, climate change, biodiversity loss, public health concerns and emerging diseases.

“The Anthony & Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation’s generous gift will help establish UCLA as one of the world’s university leaders in developing solutions to some of Africa’s greatest challenges,” said Thomas Smith, co-director of the institute.  “It also will aid in leveraging efforts such as UCLA’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge on an international scale

Established in 2015 in Cameroon by UCLA and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, the Congo Basin Institute brings together faculty from the UCLA College and four professional schools, two UCLA research institutes and numerous academic departments, as well as leading thinkers from institutions in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Africa. Operating programs in five African countries, the institute creates a bridge between UCLA and Africa, which experts forecast will be home to 40% of the world’s population by the end of the century.

“Our foundation aims to enrich humanity not just for the present, but for generations to come,” said Tony Pritzker, the foundation’s president, and the chairman and CEO of Pritzker Private Capital. “By supporting UCLA’s Congo Basin Institute, we are investing in research that will help sustain the future of our planet.”

The gift furthers the foundation’s commitment to the Centennial Campaign for UCLA, which is scheduled to conclude in December 2019 during UCLA’s 100th anniversary year. Tony Pritzker is a co-chair of the campaign, and in 2018, the foundation gave $10 million to establish the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families, a hub for research, prevention and intervention efforts that works to support families so that fewer children are at risk of entering our nation’s child welfare system.

Funds from the gift will be used in part to support UCLA undergraduates and graduate students studying and conducting research in Africa, where they will investigate a variety of critical issues that affect the continent and the planet as a whole.

The Pritzkers’ gift was matched by a $1 million grant from the Global Challenges Research Fund’s Research and Innovation Fund, which is directed by the government of the United Kingdom.

“As UCLA celebrates its centennial and the incredible work accomplished over the last century, this forward-thinking investment in the Congo Basin Institute very much positions UCLA to be a leader in the study of climate change and biodiversity in Africa,” said Scott Waugh, UCLA’s former executive vice chancellor and provost. “The institute gives UCLA a permanent presence in one of the planet’s most biodiverse areas, allowing researchers the opportunity to pioneer solutions to critical challenges that affect the future of humanity. The Pritzker Foundation’s gift extends this important work.”

The Congo Basin Institute’s work aligns on an international scale with the goals of UCLA’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, a university-wide research initiative to develop clean energy, local water solutions, and preserve biodiversity in order to transition the Los Angeles region to 100 percent renewable energy, 100 percent local water and enhanced ecosystem health by 2050.

The Congo Basin Institute is supported by UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. It is co-led by UCLA and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, with more than a dozen institutional partners from Africa and around the world, including UC Davis and UC Riverside.

For more than a decade, the Anthony & Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation has been investing in strengthening many of the unique institutions that define Los Angeles. The foundation aims to enrich the community not just for the present, but for generations to come, with a particular focus on medicine, higher education, the environment and the arts. In 2014, the foundation launched the Pritzker Foster Care Initiative to highlight its commitment to supporting transition-age foster youth and the families that care for them.

College Senior José Gonzalez is on a Mission to Understand Autism

L to R – Megan McEvoy, Jose Gonzalez, Gina Poe,

UCLA senior José Gonzalez is on a mission to move the needle on autism research. With the support of COMPASS, his family and his mentors, he is well on his way.

The California native was raised in a small Central Valley town in the heart of the state’s agricultural greenbelt. All five of José’s siblings earned college degrees—a point of great pride for his parents, who were unable to receive an education past the sixth grade.

“My parents always stressed the importance of higher education as the way to move up,” Jose said.

José’s father, originally from Mexico, works as a foreman in the citrus orchards of The Wonderful Company, which provides college scholarships and other incentives for their employees’ children who maintain good GPAs. That financial assistance helped the Gonzalez children pay for college.

In his sophomore year, José began participating in COMPASS and received the Life Sciences Dean’s Award, which provides stipends allowing students to pursue research work rather than work at part-time jobs. He has benefited from the invaluable guidance and mentorship of UCLA faculty and COMPASS co-directors Megan McEvoy and Gina Poe, scientists who have helped José navigate the challenges of a science degree.

Now a senior, José works in the lab of one of the world’s leading autism experts, Dr. Daniel Geschwind, studying genes that regulate developmental pathways integral to brain development. José’s decision to study autism was spurred when his nephew was diagnosed with the disorder, and he says the experience has been transformative.

“Without COMPASS, I would not have had the chance to work in Dr. Geschwind’s lab or be on the career trajectory I’m on now,” he said.

José’s goal is to become a pediatric neurologist with his own lab at a university, much like his mentor, Dr. Geschwind.