UCLA-led team refines ‘kick and kill’ strategy aimed at eliminating HIV-infected cells

Study in mice could point toward method for clearing virus from people who would otherwise depend on medication
A microscope image of HIV particles

A microscope image of HIV particles. The “kick and kill” approach uses cells that are naturally produced by the immune system to kill HIV-infected cells that hide in the body. Photo credit: A. Harrison and Dr. P. Feorino/CDC

By Enrique Rivero

In a study using mice, a UCLA-led team of researchers have improved upon a method they developed in 2017 that was designed to kill HIV-infected cells. The advance could move scientists a step closer to being able to reduce the amount of virus, or even eliminate it, from infected people who are dependent on lifesaving medications to keep the virus from multiplying and illness at bay.

The strategy, described in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications, uses cells that are naturally produced by the immune system to kill infected cells that hide in the body, potentially eradicating them, said Dr. Jocelyn Kim, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

“These findings show proof-of-concept for a therapeutic strategy to potentially eliminate HIV from the body, a task that had been nearly insurmountable for many years,” said Kim, the study’s lead author. “The study opens a new paradigm for a possible HIV cure in the future.”

Worldwide, there are currently 38 million people living with HIV, and an estimated 36 million have died of HIV-related diseases in the decades since HIV began circulating, according to UNAIDS.

People with HIV take antiretroviral medication to keep the virus at bay. But HIV has the ability to elude antiretrovirals by lying dormant in cells called CD4+ T cells, which signal another type of T cell, the CD8, to destroy HIV-infected cells. When a person with HIV stops treatment, the virus emerges from those reservoirs and replicates in the body, weakening the immune system and raising the likelihood of opportunistic infections or cancers that can lead to illness or death.

The UCLA-led study continues research on a strategy called “kick and kill,” which many of the same scientists first described in a 2017 paper. The approach coaxes the dormant virus to reveal itself in infected cells, so it can then be targeted and killed. In the earlier study, the researchers gave antiretroviral drugs to mice whose immune systems had been altered to mimic those of humans, and then infected with HIV. They then administered a synthetic compound called SUW133, which was developed at Stanford University, to activate the mice’s dormant HIV. Up to 25% of the previously dormant cells that began expressing HIV died within 24 hours.

But a more effective way to kill those cells was needed.

In the new study, while the mice were receiving antiretrovirals, the researchers used SUW133 to flush HIV infected cells out of hiding. They then injected healthy natural killer cells into the mice’s blood to kill the infected cells. The combination of SUW133 and injections of healthy natural killer immune cells completely cleared the HIV in 40% of the HIV-infected mice.

The researchers also analyzed the mice’s spleens — because the spleen harbors immune cells, it’s a good place to look for latent HIV-infected cells — and did not detect the virus there, suggesting that cells harboring HIV were eliminated. In addition, the combination approach performed better than either the administration of the latency reversing agent alone or the natural killer cells alone.

Kim said the researchers’ next objective is to further refine the approach to eliminate HIV in 100% of the mice they test in future experiments. “We will also be moving this research toward preclinical studies in nonhuman primates with the ultimate goal of testing the same approach in humans,” she said.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, the National Science Foundation, a National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences UCLA CTSI Grant and the McCarthy Family Foundation.

The study’s co-authors are Tian-Hao Zhang, Camille Carmona, Bryanna Lee, Dr. Christopher Seet, Matthew Kostelny, Nisarg Shah, Hongying Chen, Kylie Farrell, Dr. Mohamed Soliman, Melanie Dimapasoc, Michelle Sinani, Dr. Kenia Yazmin, Reyna Blanco, David Bojorquez, Hong Jiang, Yuan Shi, Yushen Du, Ren Sun and Jerome Zack of UCLA; Natalia Komarova, Dominik Wodarz and Matthew Marsden of UC Irvine; and Paul Wender of Stanford University. Sun is also a member of the faculty of the University of Hong Kong.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA NewsroomFor more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu.

UCLA nonviolence class connects students to Martin Luther King Jr.’s enduring legacy

The class taught by Rev. James Lawson Jr. has motivated students to carry on the fight for justice
Graphic depicting an image of Martin Luther King Jr. as well as Rev. James Lawson and UCLA students
By Citlalli Chávez-Nava

Though it’s been more than 50 years since he was killed, the teachings of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. live on at UCLA, as they’re passed along from one of King’s contemporaries to today’s undergraduates.

For the past two decades, Rev. James Lawson Jr. — one of King’s close friends and fellow civil and labor rights leader, who King once referred to as “the leading strategist of nonviolence in the world” — has taught a UCLA course on King’s signature method for social reform.

Lawson, who received campus’s highest honor, the UCLA Medal, in recognition of his life’s work, co-teaches the class with Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center. “Labor Studies M173: Nonviolence and Social Movements” is part of the labor studies academic program and offered jointly with the African American studies department and the César E. Chávez Department of Chicana and Chicano and Central American Studies.

During the civil rights movement, King and Lawson embraced the philosophy of nonviolence as the most effective force to advance social, racial and economic equity in U.S. society. Together, they taught nonviolent resistance tactics to young activists, catalyzing lunch counter sit-ins, the 1961 Freedom Rides, and worker and student demonstrations that helped desegregate the South and inspired far-reaching voter mobilization efforts. In 1968, Lawson invited King to support the renowned Memphis Sanitation Strike where King was assassinated.

The class has motivated students to embrace King’s enduring legacy, while carrying on the fight for justice on campus and in the community.

“UCLA students have been inspired by Dr. King and Rev. Lawson’s teachings,” Wong said. “Many undocumented students of UCLA, in particular, have embraced the philosophy of nonviolence to win historic victories for immigrant rights, including DACA, the California Dream Act and health care access for undocumented young people.”

Students in the course examine nonviolent theory and its impact on social movements in the United States and around the globe while applying these concepts to present-day social challenges through service learning activities.

“We share a common commitment to getting the nonviolent history and theory into the public coffers where social change, personal change and the change towards equality can be made directly,” said Lawson said during a lecture last year.

Leticia Bustamante, who graduated from UCLA in 2017, said taking the class strongly influenced her academic journey and her activism. Among her most memorable class lectures was learning about King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which King wrote a powerful defense of a 1963 massive direct action campaign to pressure Birmingham merchants to desegregate the city during a busy shopping season. The letter is regarded as one of the most influential texts of the civil rights movement.

“For me, this letter serves as a blueprint and reference on the essentials of nonviolent action. Whether I am organizing for labor or immigration, I always keep the four [nonviolence] principles in the back of my mind,” Bustamante said. “I remind myself that the tensions we are creating are necessary. People should be made to feel uncomfortable, because progress and growth are never easy.”

Bustamante is now a master’s candidate in public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and has returned to the class as a guest speaker to share her immigrant rights organizing experiences.

Last spring, when the course was moved to an online platform because of COVID-19 restrictions, Lawson and Wong identified an opportunity to share the class with a wider audience. The weekly lectures and conversations were made available in real-time and were also archived on the Labor Center’s YouTube channel.

“Rev. Lawson has deep relationships with union activists, the faith community and social justice leaders throughout the country. We thought this would be an excellent opportunity to spread his teachings on nonviolence far and wide,” Wong said.

Among other distinguished guests, the class featured labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles co-founder Melina Abdullah, California State Senator Maria Elena Durazo and anti-apartheid leader Rev. Allan Boesak who addressed the class from his home in South Africa. Lectures offered viewers perspectives on the Delano grape strikes, the Nashville sit-ins and nonviolence movements in other countries. Students and viewers also had the opportunities to discuss Los Angeles-based movements in support of hotel worker rights and Black Lives Matter.

“Our labor studies program is proud to offer a curriculum that connects students to King’s legacy and the teachings of Rev. Lawson,” said Tobias Higbie, professor of history and labor studies faculty chair. “Lawson not only inspires our students by his long career, he also challenges each of us to live up to our potential as agents of positive social change.”

This coming spring 2022, the class will explore similar themes and students will also learn about Lawson’s teachings in a new book, “Revolutionary Nonviolence: Organizing for Freedom,” to be published by UC Press next month. Lawson and Wong hope to teach the course in-person but are prepared to offer the course virtually once again if public health restrictions persist.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA NewsroomFor more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu.

The transformative power of travel

On and off the page, UCLA doctoral student Thomas Ray Garcia seeks to span great distances

Image of UCLA doctoral student Thomas Ray Garcia

UCLA doctoral student Thomas Ray Garcia

By Jonathan Riggs

The lure of the open road, the adventure of travel have long inspired and defined American writers who took “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country” to heart. In addition to being one of these journeymen himself, Thomas Ray Garcia, a UCLA doctoral student in the English Department, studies them, too.

“My dissertation focuses on literary representations of travel through the works of five 20th-century American writers I consider a chronological arc: Jack London, Jack Black, Carlos Bulosan, John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac,” he says. “All of them wrote some sort of fictionalized memoir, so I’m analyzing how the genre helped them craft their travels as journeys — not only throughout the country, but also to the professional class.”

According to Garcia, these individuals show how the idea of American authorship transformed during the early 20th-century, from deskbound typists to vigorous vagabonds writing about and taking agency over their lived experiences. All five of these authors paint larger-than-life uniquely American self-portraits, from Jack London’s tales of survival to Jack Kerouac’s free-flowing Beat Generation politics.

Writing with bravado and a scope as vast as the idealized, untamed American West, all of these authors — including Jack Black’s criminal memoirs to Carlos Bulosan’s perspective as a Filipino immigrant to John Steinbeck’s empathetic wisdom — unsurprisingly turned their attention to California.

“California was always this mecca for them; they wanted to reach what they called ‘the end of the road,’” Garcia says. “Going to the Santa Monica Pier and seeing the symbolic end of Route 66 spoke to me, too. Knowing I’m at UCLA focusing on writers who have a special relationship to this place enables me to see their work and mine through a unique lens.”

Garcia’s own travels have been just as life-changing as those of the authors he studies. Growing up 10 miles from Mexico in the border town of Pharr, Texas, Garcia was the first in his family to go to college. His experiences at Princeton — including gaining a new understanding of his Latino identity — helped inspire him to found the College Scholarship Leadership Access Program (CSLAP), a thriving Rio Grande Valley-based nonprofit that helps students reach and navigate higher education.

“I’m able to share my stories and my experiences with students, so they don’t have to struggle as much as I did,” Garcia says. “Several of the students I’m now helping apply to graduate school are the same ones I helped apply to undergrad. Helping my community like this lets me come full circle.”

A recipient of UCLA’s Carolyn See Graduate Fellowship in Southern California & Los Angeles Literature, Garcia is an accomplished creative writer, working on short stories and poetry about the U.S./Mexico border as well as co-authoring Speak with Style, a book series that helps children and young adults improve their public speaking. A project of particular importance to him is the historical memoir of Chicano activist Aurelio Montemayor he co-wrote, which has been peer-reviewed and approved by the faculty committee of Texas A&M University Press and is currently undergoing copyediting.

Now back in Texas, Garcia divides his time among academic work, creative writing and his nonprofit. He’s also a long-distance runner and likes to sneak in some nighttime miles whenever possible. His time spent under those endless Texas skies gives him the opportunity to think deeply about travel and distance — but also the importance of remembering where you’re from.

“People like me who were born and raised around this area recognize that it means something special to us. It informs who we are and all that we do,” he says. “This is a meaningful place for me to be and is definitely influencing how I’m approaching my dissertation – and everything that comes next.”

For more of Our Stories at the College, click here.

Living life like Brazilian poetry

Doctoral student Isaac Gimenez finds wisdom and whimsy in the exploration, analysis and joy of art and poetry

Image of Doctoral student Isaac Gimenez

UCLA Doctoral student Isaac Gimenez

By Jonathan Riggs

Literary translation is an art form that requires attention to detail, creativity and daring — after all, the challenges can be immense. But for doctoral student Isaac Gimenez, an adventurous artist with a bachelor’s degree in translation and interpreting and applied foreign languages, it can also be a lot of fun.

“You get to know the work really closely, and you can even take a playful approach, almost like a creative writing exercise,” says Gimenez, who was born in Spain. “It’s a dance between reproducing the original text with capturing the spirit of it in another language. You have to have a sense of humor about it all.”

After completing his undergraduate education at the University of Granada in Spain, Gimenez took various jobs in the service sector to save money and to improve his proficiency in English and French. He also worked as a freelance translator and interpreter, translating legal, technical, audiovisual and academic documents. He came to the U.S. with the goal of going to graduate school, landing a job teaching foreign language conversation at Pomona College, leading daily language labs and organizing student cultural activities. Already captivated by the arts and culture of Latin America, Gimenez was thrilled to enroll at UCLA to pursue his Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages and Literatures with a focus on Brazil.

Today, he’s working on his dissertation on 20th– and 21st-century Brazilian poetry, tracing the country’s changing notions of authorship back to the first Modernist phase in the 1920s. Gimenez explores how these writers created what he calls “a poetry of errors” — a playful form of artistic civil disobedience embraced by both experimental and “marginal” poets.

“I am interested in poetic expressions in general and, arguably, Brazilian literary tradition is very rich in humoristic, experimental, transdisciplinary and politically engaged approaches to poetry. A lot of people have a misconception that poems has to be dense and solemn, and, consequently, inaccessible, for many” Gimenez says. “I am fascinated by poets who embody what they write about too. It’s a good lesson for all of us to engage with more poetry and live our lives poetically.”

Deeply inspired by the poetry he’s studying, Gimenez is also creating artistic works of his own. He created a video-poem titled “desterro/desmadre,” which he presented for the first time at the 2020 conference Letras Expandidas (2020), organized by PUC-Rio (Br). This video-poem served two purposes: it complemented his analysis of Camila Assad’s 2019 anthology Desterro (which inspired him to write an article published in the Portuguese literary magazine eLyra) and was also a personal reflection of what it meant to live in a global hub like Los Angeles while restricted to a smaller, screen-based scope of existence during the lockdown. “desterro/desmadre” will also be published in 2022 in Párrafo, the literary, artistic and cultural magazine of the UCLA Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

“A professor of mine, Patrícia Lino, reminded me that academic writing is, in fact, a creative practice as well,” he says. “In that sense, critical readings and interpretations of literary works can be inspired by and in dialogue with other art forms and mediums.”

Supplementing his academic and creative work is Gimenez’s role as Editor-in-Chief of Mester, the journal of UCLA’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese graduate students. (Click here for Mester’s open access.) As he works on his dissertation, Gimenez is grateful for the support he earned from the Lorrine Rona Lydeen Fund since it has allowed him to devote considerable time and energy to this additional work — as well as to expanding his professional skills and nurturing new collaborations, both at UCLA (participating in two Excellence in Pedagogy and Innovative Classrooms (EPIC) seminars) and through Mester, working closely with fellow scholars from Latin America and Europe. In fact, the journal will release its 50th issue later this year.

“I think it is quite remarkable that this issue builds bridges between scholars engaging with the Hispanic and Lusophone traditions from different continents and in different languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese,” says Gimenez.

It all adds up to why UCLA is such a special place for someone like Gimenez, who has traveled the globe.

“It means so much to be living in Los Angeles, a vibrant city that supports and is in continuous dialogue with artists, authors, intellectuals and cultural producers from Latin America and all over the world,” he says. “And most of all, being part of the UCLA community enhances those opportunities to access resources and meet scholars and professionals who inspire our work.”

For more of Our Stories at the College, click here.

UCLA dedicates labor center building to Rev. James Lawson Jr., champion of civil and worker rights

The building, which is now named in his honor, will house labor research, teaching and service for decades to come

Image of the The Rev. James Lawson Jr. at building dedication

Addressing the crowd at the ceremony, Lawson said, “Economic justice for every boy and girl of our 331 million people in the United States is perhaps the most daunting, complex issue we face.” Photo Credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

By Citlalli Chávez-Nava

For a building dedicated to ensuring fair treatment and opportunities for workers and that is located in the heart of one of Los Angeles’ working-class immigrant neighborhoods, naming it after iconic civil and workers’ rights leader Rev. James Lawson Jr. was perfect.

On Dec. 11, the UCLA Labor Center’s historic MacArthur Park building was officially named the UCLA James Lawson Jr. Worker Justice Center in honor Lawson, one of the civil rights movement’s most-prominent leaders of non-violent protest and a UCLA labor studies faculty member.

“Throughout history, many of our greatest leaders have urged us to look inward,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said to the audience of 300 attendees at a ceremony hosted by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor in partnership with the Labor Center. “They ask: Who are we as people? What do we value? What kind of society do we want, and what are we willing to do to build it?

“For over 60 years, James Lawson has invited Americans to consider such pressing questions. He has insisted that humanity’s salvation lies in reason and compassion, not violence or exploitation. His vision and valor have mobilized Americans, changed this nation, and inspired activists around the globe.”

Once referred to as “the mind of the movement” and “the leading strategist of nonviolence in the world” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lawson, now 93, is known internationally for teaching nonviolent resistance tactics to young activists. In the course of his life, Lawson and his colleagues and students led lunch counter sit-ins, freedom rides and worker strikes including the historic 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike during the civil rights movement.

Lawson said he was humbled by UCLA naming a building in his honor.

“I had no idea how to prepare for this moment. For this extraordinary experience of all of you and the coalition that came together, to make this possible,” Lawson said. “On behalf of my wife, Dorothy, and her parents, and my parents and our great grandparents, and all on behalf of our sons, our grandchildren … we thank you very much, absolutely astonishing — I could never have imagined anything like this at all.”

Image of Chancellor Gene Block speaking at the ceremony naming the building that houses the UCLA Labor Center in honor of the Rev. James Lawson Jr.

Chancellor Gene Block speaks at the ceremony naming the building that houses the UCLA Labor Center in honor of the Rev. James Lawson Jr.
Photo credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

Local Emmy-nominated R&B and gospel artist Ashly Williams sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to kick off the ceremony, which took place in front of the building, just a couple of miles away from the downtown Los Angeles skyline.

“I am proud to say that the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor signed on immediately in support of the $15 million allocation to establish a home for the UCLA Labor Center and to rename this building in your honor,” said Los Angeles County Labor Federation President Ron Herrera. “This investment, this building, will help energize the future of the Los Angeles labor movement.”

Guests included members of Lawson’s family, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles County supervisors Hilda Solis and Holly Mitchell, state senators María Elena Durazo and Steven Bradford, State Controller Betty Yee, California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, assemblymembers Reggie Jones-Sawyer and Miguel Santiago, and Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo, were among other community leaders, who spoke of Lawson’s unwavering commitment to advancing racial justice and worker rights.

“On behalf of this City of Angels, thank you to this angel,” Garcetti said. “Whether it’s in a sermon at Holman [United Methodist Church] or whether it’s in a private small conversation that I’ve had with [Rev. Lawson] at UCLA — and thank you to UCLA, Chancellor Block for having this center here — this man has shown us what it means to live in a city of angels in a world fighting for justice and in a city of belonging.”

UCLA faculty and administrators including Block, Dean of Social Sciences Darnell Hunt, Labor Center Director Kent Wong, labor studies students, clergy, members of Holman United Methodist Church and union members also attended.

A third generation Methodist minister, Lawson was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and earned his local pastor’s license in 1949 during his senior year of high school. Shortly after graduating, he was drafted into the U.S. military but refused to enlist. As a conscientious objector, Lawson received a three-year sentence, and served 13 months in prison.

Following release from prison, Lawson traveled to India as a missionary where he studied the nonviolence teachings of Mohandas Gandhi. Upon returning to the United States in 1956, Lawson began to train and inspire a new generation of civil rights leaders including the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, also a recipient of the UCLA Medal, campus’s highest honor. Lawson received the UCLA Medal in 2018.

Image of California State Sen. María Elena Durazo was a student of the Rev. James Lawson Jr.

California State Sen. María Elena Durazo was a student of the Rev. James Lawson Jr. Photo credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

In 1974, Lawson moved to Los Angeles and became pastor of Holman United Methodist Church where he led his congregation to mobilize for peace and social justice while contributing to the transformation of the Los Angeles labor movement. His work with the UNITE HERE Local 11 helped hotel workers achieve higher wages and improved working conditions by orchestrating nonviolent sit-ins, hunger strikes and civil disobedience protests. Soon after, Los Angeles labor organizers embraced similar tactics, which inspired a national movement for immigrant worker justice.

Durazo strategized with Lawson directly as a young leader at UNITE HERE Local 11 and has maintained her friendship with Lawson for more than 30 years. Inspired by his teachings, she led the effort to name the Labor Center building in his honor and unveiled the building’s signage bearing Lawson’s name to a standing ovation.

“Reverend Lawson’s lifelong advocacy, for social justice, for civil rights, for workers’ rights, for breaking down racist institutions will be honored through all the great organizing that I know is going to be done at this center over decades to come,” she said.

Wong, who has led the work of the UCLA Labor Center for the past 30 years and has co-taught alongside Lawson for the past 20 years, welcomed Lawson to the podium.

“Reverend Lawson has been our moral and our spiritual compass,” Wong said. “I’ve watched the transformation each year, as our students sit in awe and learn from Reverend Lawson, learn about his life, his teachings … how he has lived his life with principles and justice, and determination.”

In his address, Lawson recognized the unprecedented challenges facing the nation and how this moment would serve as a reminder of the urgent need to achieve economic dignity for all.

“Economic justice for every boy and girl of our 331 million people in the United States is perhaps the most daunting, complex issue we face,” he said. “But if we do not achieve it, if we cannot achieve it, we as the people, will have failed this extraordinary vision and mission that I personally have loved.”

Yet, he expressed hope in our human capacity to overcome our present challenges.

“If we can tap the great forces of life itself, and use those powers in the solving of the issues we face, we will discover the power of life itself in the power of the universe.”

Naming the building in honor of Lawson forms part of a $15 million effort to renovate the Labor Center funded by a one-time allocation in California’s 2021-22 state budget. The Labor Center was originally established in 1964 within the UCLA Institute of Industrial Relations, now the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, through a statewide joint labor-university committee. Since its inception, the center has been dedicated to research, education and service in the interest of California workers.

In 2002, the Labor Center leased the building overlooking MacArthur Park to connect UCLA students and faculty to the broader Los Angeles worker community. Since then, it has focused on cutting-edge worker research, investigating topics such as wage theft, Black unemployment, immigrant workers, young workers and the gig economy. The center is also recognized for its innovative worker education and popular education programs and community-engaged learning within the economic justice movement and promoting a global workers’ rights agenda.

“We’re thrilled to help build a community asset that bears Reverend Lawson’s name. It will be a profound reminder of our obligation to advance research and policy solutions that advance worker and economic justice,” said Abel Valenzuela Jr., director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. “The UCLA James Lawson Jr. Worker Justice Center will place Los Angeles and [the University of California] at the forefront of community engagement, academic research and a push for a worker centered economy.”

In honor of Lawson’s life and enduring legacy, early next year, UC Press will also release a book titled, “Revolutionary Nonviolence: Organizing for Freedom” featuring Lawson’s teachings on nonviolence.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA NewsroomFor more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu.

From fiction to action on climate change: Author Kim Stanley Robinson delivers Possible Worlds lecture

Reimagining the scope and approach of the UCLA Center for Early Global Studies

Zrinka Stahuljak embraces the role of ‘fixer’ as she directs the center’s transformation

By Jonathan Riggs

Photo credit: Janja Ružić

Zrinka Stahuljak in front of a 15th-century relief of the winged lion of Venice. Each quarter, she guides students through explorations of paintings, sculptures and architecture, encouraging them to find deeper meaning about the people who created them. Photo credit: Janja Ružić

Journalists, businesspeople and politicians working in foreign countries often depend on fixers — resourceful, problem-solving guides with a sophisticated grasp of local languages, cultures and customs.

Zrinka Stahuljak has long considered herself a fixer, both literally — she was a wartime interpreter in her native Croatia during the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia — and metaphorically, in her role at UCLA.

“I’m fascinated and inspired by the transcultural work of fixers, who ultimately help people make transformative connections,” she says.

It’s in that spirit that Stahuljak has overseen the thoughtful transformation of the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies into the UCLA CMRS Center for Early Global Studies. As the center’s director since 2019, Stahuljak has aimed to honor the center’s illustrious past — founded in 1963, it’s one of the oldest such centers in North America — and ensure its dynamic future.

While the center’s purview will still span the third to the 17th centuries, its new name represents an expanded focus, which now takes a global perspective extending far beyond the Eurocentric view that once defined the field. As part of its new approach, research is centered around five axes: sustainability and repurposing, fluidity and permanence, bodies and performance, conversion and mobility, and communication and archive.

“This collaborative platform allows faculty studying various parts of the globe over almost 1,500 years to exchange effectively from within their fields or work together innovatively across them,” says Stahuljak, a professor of European languages and transcultural studies and of comparative literature.

The transformation makes UCLA’s center one of the first major entities in the field to adopt the new, more inclusive approach, and to employ the new methodologies and interdisciplinary orientations that come with it.

“The key to it all is recognizing and proceeding with the knowledge that none of us is alone in this world,” she says. “That’s something the study of the past can give us: an overwhelming sense of relationality to others who have lived and who will live.”

In the wake of its relaunch, the center already has begun to forge new collaborations with partners from across campus, including scholars at the departments of anthropology, Asian languages and cultures, Near Eastern languages and cultures, and world arts and cultures/dance, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the Charles E. Young Research Library.

It’s work worthy of a world-class fixer like Stahuljak, who recently wrote two books on fixers: “Les Fixeurs au Moyen Age: Histoire et Littérature Connectées” (“Fixers in the Middle Ages: Connected History and Literature”), which was published in September by Éditions du Seuil, and “Medieval Fixers: Translation in the Mediterranean (1250–1500),” forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.

Stahuljak researched and wrote both volumes in 2017 and 2018, when she was a Guggenheim fellow.

Staying connected to Europe and her own past richly informs all Stahuljak does. Born to musician parents who valued education, she grew up with a gift for learning multiple languages, including the two she would later adopt professionally, French and English.

Her time as a wartime interpreter — including a frightening night navigating mountain paths alone after the Croatian–Slovenian border closed — interrupted her college education for a year, but it also taught her much about injustice and the need for an international community of scholarship. Stahuljak went on to earn her master’s degree from the University of Kansas and a doctorate from Emory University; after four years at Boston University, she joined UCLA in 2005.

To open her students’ eyes and intellects and perhaps inspire their empathy, Stahuljak starts each quarter by guiding them through explorations of paintings, sculptures and architecture, encouraging them to find deeper meaning about the people who created them and those who have absorbed them over centuries. Her goal: to help students connect with the subjects they’re studying, no matter the historical distance.

That thoughtful approach carries over to her vision for the Center for Early Global Studies. Even with the campus having resumed in-person instruction, Stahuljak plans to continue offering a range of programs online, too, to maintain the growing global audience it cultivated during the pandemic. She’s also investing in the next generation of scholars, for example by holding manuscript workshops to shepherd junior faculty through the often overwhelming process of producing their first books, and she is directing more funds to support graduate students in both traditional and underrepresented areas of study.

“As a fixer, I see my role as making this a community: a collective platform to empower UCLA’s extraordinary researchers, scholars and teachers,” she says. “My goal is to put myself out there and ask, ‘What do you want to do, and how can I help you make it happen?’”

Stahuljak sees her work relaunching the center as an opportunity to marry her rich understanding of the past with her hopeful view of a humane future for all.

“We cannot understand the present without the past — the contrast allows us to analyze differences, successes and failures and, ideally, to find innovation to build an informed and thoughtful future,” she says. “The CMRS Center for Early Global Studies has an investment in making the past contemporary. These lessons help us do what we fixers always seek to do: invent and make real change.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

For more of Our Stories at the College, click here.

A meeting between citizens and members of the municipal police in Medellín, Colombia.

In developing countries, no quick fix for strengthening police–civilian relations

Study co-led by UCLA’s Graeme Blair finds community policing did little to improve citizens’ trust of law enforcement
A meeting between citizens and members of the municipal police in Medellín, Colombia.

As part of the study, residents of Medellín, Colombia, met with members of the municipal police to share concerns about law enforcement and discuss potential solutions. Photo credit: Evidence in Governance and Politics

By Jessica Wolf

In an international study co-led by UCLA political scientist Graeme Blair, community policing efforts in six developing countries were ineffective in reducing crime or restoring civilians’ trust in law enforcement.

The practice of community policing was developed in the U.S. in the early 1990s and has since gained popularity across the world. It typically involves collaboration between police and neighborhood watch groups and introduces new mechanisms for citizens to report crimes as well as abuses of power by police.

Along with Blair, the study’s lead authors are Jeremy Weinstein of Stanford University and Fotini Christia of MIT. They and 23 other authors from five universities studied new community policing efforts in Brazil, Colombia, Liberia, the Philippines, Uganda and Pakistan.

The researchers collaborated with local police agencies to implement some common elements of community policing, including town hall meetings and so-called problem-oriented policing, which entails police and civilians identifying specific areas where specific types of crime are occurring, and working together to define solutions. The projects ran for periods ranging from six months (in Pakistan) to 17 months (in the Philippines), and researchers judged the programs’ success based on crime reports and surveys of community members and police officers.

The results, published in the journal Science, showed no evidence that the reforms reduced crime or increased civilians’ trust in police.

Blair said the findings were surprising given the increasing attention being paid to community policing in recent years. Advocates say the approach can help reduce crime while also rebuilding trust between citizens and police.

“Previous evidence from the U.S., U.K. and Australia suggested these policies were effective, and their wide adoption was driven in part by prominent success stories in Boston and Chicago,” Blair said. “But when we studied these locally adapted community policing practices in developing countries we just didn’t see any changes.”

The data showed no improvements in terms of trust in law enforcement, crime reduction or cooperation between civilians and police — the three primary benefits touted by advocates of community policing.

“There were some improvements in citizens’ attitudes toward the police in a couple of cases, but those were inconsistent across the countries we studied,” Blair said.

The study is one of the largest ever to study policy reform in partnership with governments. Researchers worked with six police agencies in six countries, implementing reforms in more than 700 localities and testing them against police beats where the reforms were not instituted. Data collection included interviews with more than 18,000 citizens and 800 officers.

MIT’s Christia said the findings suggest there is no one-size-fits-all approach to police reform.

The researchers have several theories as to why the community policing tactics were ineffective. Among them:

• Insufficient encouragement from senior law enforcement officials, who are responsible for shaping police officers’ understanding of whether and how to implement new policing practices.

• Officers’ reluctance to respond to issues concerning so-called minor crimes — including domestic abuse, harassment and fraud — raised by citizens during community meetings. Researchers observed that police leadership demanded that officers focus on higher-profile crimes, which are more likely to influence their departments’ success metrics and job promotions.

• Police officers being frequently rotated in and out of test locations, which interrupted their training in new policing practices and hampered their ability to create rapport with community members.

“While community policing strategies didn’t deliver the anticipated results on their own, the challenges in implementation point to the need for more systemic reforms that provide the necessary resources and align incentives for police to respond to citizens’ primary concerns,” said Stanford’s Weinstein.

The researchers write that the future success of community policing in developing countries might require support from each level of authority, from senior law enforcement leaders down to station commanders, in order to engender widespread adoption among police officers. Police agencies also might need to change how they measure their success, giving more attention to issues community members care about, and to rethink training and staffing practices.

“It is possible that there is a version of community policing that works in these kinds of settings, but we didn’t find it.” Blair said. “One explanation could be that it takes a long time to build trust between citizens and the police. In some places, it is being thought of as a policy that can reap quick benefits in creating a symbiotic relationship between citizens and the police, but our study shows that doesn’t seem to be broadly true.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA NewsroomFor more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu.

How a COVID-19 vaccine arrived quickly and without compromise

Bruin Carly Daniels, who leads the Pfizer scientists developing vaccines for pneumonia and the coronavirus, always remembers that patients are waiting.

Image of Carly Daniels

Courtesy Carly Daniels

By Dan Gordon ’85

As senior principal scientist and group leader at Pfizer in St. Louis, Carly Daniels Ph.D. ’14 leads teams of scientists who develop methods for Pfizer biotherapeutics, particularly vaccines, and then test them for quality throughout the manufacturing process. Her team worked intensively on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, and in addition to overseeing those efforts, Daniels participated in assembling and organizing data sent to regulatory agencies in more than 100 countries toward the vaccine’s authorization for use. Daniels, who earned her doctorate at UCLA in biochemistry and molecular biology, also completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before joining Pfizer in 2015.

When Pfizer and BioNTech agreed to work together on the COVID-19 vaccine in March 2020, as the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic, how did your life change?

Things changed pretty quickly. It became clear that a lot of the work would be done in St. Louis, where my team and I are based. And a huge part of the Pfizer–St. Louis population raised their hands and said, “I’m in. I’ll do whatever is needed.” We weren’t able to push aside other projects, but we pivoted to prioritizing the COVID vaccine, working longer hours to get things done.

No one expected a vaccine to be ready in less than a year — vaccine development usually takes a decade or more. To what do you attribute the speed?

Certainly at the beginning, a lot of us thought, my gosh, we can’t do this so quickly. But a huge part of why it went so much faster is that with traditional vaccine and medicine development, everything is done in sequence. As you scale up, the manufacturing changes, and you invest in increasingly larger equipment and infrastructure. And you wait to see how a clinical trial goes before moving on to the next stage. In this case, our leadership said we’re going to do everything at once, in parallel, and accept the risk. We were not resource-limited, which was very helpful. We had thousands of people working on this across Pfizer and BioNTech, as well as through various partners. Everyone worked longer hours and weekends, knowing how critical this was. My understanding is that it was also all hands on deck at the regulatory agencies. They get tons of submissions, which can take time to work through. But with the COVID-focused filings, they could prioritize those.

Pie chart showing Number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the United States as of November 7, 2021, by vaccine manufacturer.

Number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the United States as of November 7, 2021, by vaccine manufacturer. 251,090,534 Pfizer-BioNTech (58.5% of total); 161,390,613 Moderna (37.6%); 15,917,693 J&J/Janssen (3.7%); 528,784 not identified (0.01%). Source: Statista https://www.statista.com/statistics/1198516/covid-19-vaccinations-administered-us-by-company/

 

Much misinformation surrounds the COVID-19 vaccines. What’s a misconception you would like to correct?

One of the biggest ones I have heard is that the speed with which we were able to do things meant cutting corners. The reasons we could go at the pace we did were the changes we made to how we would do typical development and the prioritizing by the regulators. We still had to hit all of the same high quality standards internally, and with the regulatory agencies, those standards did not change at all.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were first to use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which has been heralded as a faster way to develop vaccines and other therapeutics. Did that play a role in the speed?

That definitely helped. It’s easier and faster to make, and a huge part of getting to that final commercial process is to be at a scale where you can produce the supply you need. We’ve already seen announcements from companies starting to look at clinical trials for mRNA vaccines to address other types of infectious diseases as well as other therapeutic areas, including different types of cancer. Our motivator is always that the patients are waiting, and it does seem like mRNA is going to cut down on the time it takes to get medicines and vaccines to patients.

“Working on these molecules that prevent disease can impact millions of people.” — Carly Daniels

Your team has received FDA approval for another blockbuster vaccine, Prevnar20, to prevent invasive pneumococcal disease and pneumonia. What impact do you expect to see?

I have worked on that for several years, and that approval was great cause for celebration. We should see a huge impact. We’ve seen it from prior iterations of Prevnar and other vaccines that address other infectious diseases. It’s incredible when you can essentially pinpoint the decline in the prevalence of some of these invasive or infectious diseases lining up with when these vaccines started to be introduced into the population.

Graphic showing Vaccination rankings, as reported by countries

Vaccination rankings, as reported by countries (Last Updated Nov. 7). U.S. 57.21% of population fully vaccinated, 74th in the world, behind 73 other countries and territories, such as UAE 87.51% in 3rd, Portugal 87.39% (4th), Spain 79.96% (8th), South Korea 76.66% (14th), Canada 74.79% (21st), Japan 74.07% (22nd), Australia 67.02% (38th), El Salvador 59.53% (63rd), Morocco 59.30% (64th) and Brazil 57.79% (72nd). Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

How did you become interested in science, and vaccines in particular?

I’ve been interested in science from a pretty young age, mostly thanks to my dad. He is an entomologist, so he works with bugs, which is not my area of interest. As a grad student at UCLA, I became interested in medicine development. I worked in the laboratory of Professor Joseph Loo in the biochemistry department. He had experience in industry, and was really encouraging and open to helping me explore different career paths. We collaborated with Amgen, and after getting a look at some of the work they did, I started to see that a lot of the techniques we were using in grad school were being used in industry and could be a part of developing medicines that would help tons of people. After joining Pfizer, I quickly got involved in one of our other vaccines and gained the perspective that working on these molecules that prevent disease can impact millions of people. This was before the pandemic; now, I guess it’s in the billions.

How did your Ph.D. experience prepare you for the work you’re doing now?

One of the things that drew me to UCLA was that all of the professors in the department were super approachable. When I went there to interview, it just felt different from other places. You could tell how much collaboration there was, both among the labs within the department and across the medical campus. Getting to collaborate with different groups on campus, as well as with Amgen, City of Hope and UC Riverside, prepared me for Pfizer, where you’re constantly working on cross-functional project teams, communicating with people about your work and trying to understand theirs.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA NewsroomFor more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu.

UCLA astronomers discover more than 300 possible new exoplanets

Findings also include a distinctive planetary system with two gas giants
Rendering of the Kepler-444 planetary system.

UCLA researchers identified 366 new exoplanets using data from the Kepler Space Telescope, including 18 planetary systems similar to the one illustrated here, Kepler-444, which was previously identified using the telescope. Photo credit: Tiago Campante/Peter Devine via NASA

 

 

By Briley Lewis

UCLA astronomers have identified 366 new exoplanets, thanks in large part to an algorithm developed by a UCLA postdoctoral scholar. Among their most noteworthy findings is a planetary system that comprises a star and at least two gas giant planets, each roughly the size of Saturn and located unusually close to one another.

The discoveries are described in a paper published today in the Astronomical Journal.

The term “exoplanets” is used to describe planets outside of our own solar system. The number of exoplanets that have been identified by astronomers numbers fewer than 5,000 in all, so the identification of hundreds of new ones is a significant advance. Studying such a large new group of bodies could help scientists better understand how planets form and orbits evolve, and it could provide new insights about how unusual our solar system is.

“Discovering hundreds of new exoplanets is a significant accomplishment by itself, but what sets this work apart is how it will illuminate features of the exoplanet population as a whole,” said Erik Petigura, a UCLA astronomy professor and co-author of the research.

The paper’s lead author is Jon Zink, who earned his doctorate from UCLA in June and is currently a UCLA postdoctoral scholar. He and Petigura, as well as an international team of astronomers called the Scaling K2 project, identified the exoplanets using data from the NASA Kepler Space Telescope’s K2 mission.

The discovery was made possible by a new planet detection algorithm that Zink developed. One challenge in identifying new planets is that reductions in staller brightness may originate from the instrument or from an alternative astrophysical source that mimics a planetary signature. Teasing out which ones are which requires extra investigation, which traditionally has been extremely time consuming and can only be accomplished through visual inspection. Zink’s algorithm is able to separate which signals indicate planets and which are merely noise.

“The catalog and planet detection algorithm that Jon and the Scaling K2 team came devised is a major breakthrough in understanding the population of planets,” Petigura said. “I have no doubt they will sharpen our understanding of the physical processes by which planets form and evolve.”

Kepler’s original mission came to an unexpected end in 2013 when a mechanical failure left the spacecraft unable to precisely point at the patch of sky it had been observing for years.

But astronomers repurposed the telescope for a new mission known as K2, whose objective is to identify exoplanets near distant stars. Data from K2 is helping scientists understand how stars’ location in the galaxy influences what kind of planets are able to form around them. Unfortunately, the software used by the original Kepler mission to identify possible planets was unable to handle the complexities of the K2 mission, including the ability to determine the planets’ size and their location relative to their star.

Previous work by Zink and collaborators introduced the first fully automated pipeline for K2, with software to identify likely planets in the processed data.

For the new study, the researchers used the new software to analyze the entire dataset from K2 — about 500 terabytes of data encompassing more than 800 million images of stars — to create a “catalog” that will soon be incorporated into NASA’s master exoplanet archive. The researchers used UCLA’s Hoffman2 Cluster to process the data.

In addition to the 366 new planets the researchers identified, the catalog lists 381 other planets that had been previously identified.

Zink said the findings could be a significant step toward helping astronomers understand which types of stars are most likely to have planets orbiting them and what that indicates about the building blocks needed for successful planet formation.

“We need to look at a wide range of stars, not just ones like our sun, to understand that,” he said.

The discovery of the planetary system with two gas giant planets was also significant because it’s rare to find gas giants — like Saturn in our own solar system — as close to their host star as they were in this case. The researchers cannot yet explain why it occurred there, but Zink said that makes the finding especially useful because it could help scientists form a more accurate understanding of the parameters for how planets and planetary systems develop.

“The discovery of each new world provides a unique glimpse into the physics that play a role in planet formation,” he said.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA NewsroomFor more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu.