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April 30, 2014

Host: Ted Simons

Bisgrove Scholars

  |   Video
  • Science Foundation Arizona has named four Ph.D. candidates and early-career tenure track faculty for its prestigious Bisgrove Scholars award. The goal is to attract and retain individuals in science and engineering. William Harris, president and CEO of Science Foundation Arizona, will discuss the Bisgrove Scholars award, along with Dr. Muhammad Murtaza, who will be an Early Career Scholar at the Translational Genomics Research Institute, and Rachel Rowe, who will be a Post-Doctoral Scholar at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
  • William Harris - President and CEO, Science Foundation Arizona
  • Dr. Muhammad Murtaza - Early Career Scholar, Translational Genomics Research Institute
  • Rachel Rowe - Post-Doctoral Scholar, Phoenix Children’s Hospital
Category: Science   |   Keywords: science, engineering, bisgrove, scholars, goal, foundation, arizona,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Science foundation Arizona named four Ph.D candidates and early career faculty for its prestigious Bisgrove Award, Scholars award, which are designed to attract and retain top science and engineering talent. Here to discuss the awards is William Harris, president and CEO of Science Foundation Arizona, and also joining us are two of the award recipients, Dr. Muhammad Murtaza, an Early Career Scholar with the Translational Genomics Institute, and Rachel Rowe, a Post-Doctoral Scholar at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Good to have you all here, thanks for joining us. Bill, start with you. This Bisgrove Scholar Program, what are we talking about here?

William Harris: We're talking about a program that I hope will be like the Rhodes Scholars in 20 years. Science Foundation Arizona started this program four years ago, named it after Jerry Bisgrove, the individual who made a major investment in science foundation to help us start. He wanted to help us attract real talent to Arizona, but he wanted it to be the best talent in the world.

Ted Simons: And to do this the awards do what?

William Harris: The awards support really outstanding people for two years in their career to get them started and hopefully planted in Arizona for the long-term, and make a difference in Arizona.

Ted Simons: And these are folks who might have started their scholarships and their intellectual careers, their careers period, elsewhere, or here in Arizona?

William Harris: Anywhere in the world.

Ted Simons: And it doesn’t matter?

William Harris: We want the talent.

Ted Simons: And you want to keep it here?

William Harris: You bet, and so we have two examples here.

Ted Simons: You sure do, Muhammad you’re now going to be working with TGEN talk about what you're going to be doing with TGEN?

Dr. Muhammad Murtaza: Sure, so what we're trying to do is really develop a new kind of blood test for cancers. This is different from every blood test you have seen so far because it doesn't look at the proteins that are excreted or shed into the blood but actually DNA fragments.

Ted Simons: I was reading up on this, this is a circulating tumor DNA analysis.

Dr. Muhammad Murtaza: Yes. Absolutely.

Ted Simons: What does that mean?

Dr. Muhammad Murtaza: Right. So we’ve known since about 70's or 80's now that cancer is a disease which is driven by genetic changes in the DNA. Now, every cell when it dies or divides sheds fragments of its DNA into the bloodstream. If it's a canner cell then it sheds the mutated cancer genome into the bloodstream. And so what we are trying to do is look at that DNA in circulation and try and see whether we can identify mutations from cancer directly by looking at that instead of biopsy.

Ted Simons: So basically looking at specific DNA to identify what's going on.

Dr. Muhammad Murtaza: Absolutely, and then if you can do it, if you can show you can do it from blood, the beauty of this is you can repeat it without the need for another biopsy later on.

Ted Simons: And this could lead to, what, like DNA-based cancer blood tests?

Dr. Muhammad Murtaza: Absolutely. That's what the eventual aim is.

Ted Simons: Wow I want to get back to that in a second here. Rachel, now you're working with Phoenix Children's Hospital. This sounds like traumatic brain injury which we have heard a lot of in the news recently. Talk to us about what will you be doing there at PCH?

Rachel Rowe: Yeah, so I was recruited with Dr. Jonathan Lifshitz. Arizona had a need for brain injury research in Arizona. They moved our entire lab came from the University of Kentucky, and we came here to start research. I work with the Children's Hospital but the project itself was identified in veterans. They found that veterans were coming in long term much later after their concussion and that they were having problems with hormones. Different hormone levels weren't where they needed to be. And so they identified us as a partner on this project, because it's also very under-studied and the pediatric population, which is where a majority of concussions occur, is in children. We're doing that together with the University of Arizona, College of Medicine in Phoenix. So all three institutions in Arizona have recognized that after brain injury there are changes in hormones. So your endocrine system, where your hormones are produced, there's problems with it and we're all going to come together to work on this project.

Ted Simons: I find this fascinating, endocrine dysfunction in post brain injury, I mean for us out here what exactly does that mean? Does that mean when you take a blood test you see certain hormones, does that suggest someone who doesn't know they have posttraumatic brain injury might have it?

Rachel Rowe: So what it is, is just long term, years after you have had a concussion. You have problems with weight gain or you have problems with cortisol, which is something that you produce as a stress response. So basically something that should be normally present, there's changes in it after brain injuries but it’s really long term.

Ted Simons: So is this the kind of idea where you can diagnose, make it easier to diagnose a posttraumatic brain injury, make it easier to treat, both?

Rachel Rowe: So the idea, what we're really interested in, is being able to treat it. So because it identifies itself so late, so long term, what they want to be able to do is see with our model, we're going to look at it, set a model up and be able to identify, when is the problem happening? We see it much later but when does the problem happen? Because if we can find when it happened, you can do hormone replacement therapy for instance, which would be a therapy that you could go in if you know when to start and where to start. So we're really starting from just the ground up. When this is happening, why is it happening, and what can we do to give better quality of life to individuals that have suffered from a brain injury?

Ted Simons: And Bill, I'll get to you in a minute, but we’re having a good conversation here.

William Harris: I think you're doing a good job. I'm learning a lot.

Ted Simons: Muhammad, what got you started in this line of work and specifically with this DNA analysis of tumors? Was there an aha moment?

Dr. Muhammad Murtaza: Right. So this is similar work from what I pursued during my Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in England, so that’s before coming here. I think there is just a lot of problems to be solved before this test can make it to the finish. There's a variety of different applications, but it's just very attractive to see that you can then somehow monitor cancers in a very personalized manner which is just very attractive feature of what we're trying to do.

Ted Simons: And I would imagine it’s somewhat attractive to see a facility like TGEN and know you can work in conjunction with them.

Dr. Muhammad Murtaza: Oh absolutely. The program I’m setting up is sort of based half at TGEN, and half at Mayo Clinic, and it’s in Scottsdale. It's really using the genomics facilities which are really state of the art at TGEN and working with patients from Mayo Clinic to make this happen.

Ted Simons: Do you see yourself staying in Arizona awhile?

Dr. Muhammad Murtaza: I think so, I mean things are going quite well at the moment. Why not?

Ted Simons: Alright, that’s what Bill wants to hear over here. As far as getting you interested in post-traumatic brain injuries, was this something that you had targeted? Something that interested you specifically? Or something you discovered along the way?

Rachel Rowe: I think that I just discovered it along the way. When I first started out, I was actually looking at sleep, whether or not you should sleep after a concussion. I did most of my doctorate degree on that, which is a very acute response to brain injury. After I got a look at something that happens immediately, changes in sleep, I wanted to grow in where I'm at in my career and start looking at something that’s a much more long term consequence. I think something that's really unique to Arizona is that all these institutions want to work together. As he said, he works with TGEN, and the Mayo Clinic, and I work with the V.A., the Children's Hospital, and the University of Arizona, College of Medicine, because for research science in particular to be successful it has to be collaborative, not competitive. So Arizona does a good job of letting everyone come together and work for one common cause.

Ted Simons: So with that in mind, you see yourself sticking around Arizona awhile?

Rachel Rowe: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: Okay, Bill she did mention this collaborative effort that is so important. Especially if it attracts folks like this, it's even more important.

William Harris: Yeah, well what I wanted to comment on is that Muhammad is already got a medical degree and is going to be getting his Ph.D. degree. Having that kind of educated person coming from Pakistan, Cambridge one of the best universities in the world, then over here, then you have a young scientist working on the brain who grew up in a very rural part of Kentucky. She’s got a little bit of an accent.

Ted Simons: A little bit, just a little bit.

William Harris: I understand that accent, I'm from the south. And she grew up, and many of the kids in Arizona grew up, in rural areas where you're not even expected to even go to high school. She beat the odds, and did everything.

Ted Simons: And so again, these are the kinds of folks that the Bisgrove Scholars are targeting, hoping will stay here, certainly while they are here will make a difference?

William Harris: Will make a difference and we have the universities, we’ve got TGEN, we’ve got the other laboratories helping to recruit and bring the talent and they compete for these positions. So this is a terrific thing that our board is very very heavily involved in, and they are excited about this as well.

Ted Simons: And real quickly, Bisgrove Scholars is every year?

William Harris: Every year. This is the fourth year.

Ted Simons: Fourth year. Alright well congratulations to all of you. Good luck as well with your research. This is important work, and it’s good to have you here, doing that work. Bill, good to see you.

William Harris: thank you very much Ted. Appreciate being here.

Redistricting Ruling

  |   Video
  • A U.S. District court has ruled that Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission does not have to redraw maps for legislative district maps. Jeremy Duda of the Arizona Capitol Times will discuss the ruling.
  • Jeremy Duda - Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times
Category: Legislature   |   Keywords: redistricting, ruling, legislature, legislative, district, maps,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: A federal court yesterday rejected a lawsuit challenging Arizona's legislative district map, the map had been targeted by Republicans who claim that the commission drew the new boundaries to favor Democrats. Jeremy Duda of the Arizona Capitol Times has been covering the story, Jeremy joins us right now. Good to see you, what exactly did this federal panel look at?

Jeremy Duda: Well what the federal panel looked at was whether or not the independent redistricting commission intentionally depopulated about a dozen legislative districts in order to give the Democrats an advantage in these races. It's 30 districts and they have on average a population of about 210,100, but the majority of the Republican districts are above average. The overwhelming majority of the democratic districts are below average. This group of Republican activists sued in federal court and said this was for discriminatory purposes, it was for partisan purposes, it was meant to hurt Republicans and give Democrats an edge.

Ted Simons: And thus violates equal protection for Republican voters.

Jeremy Duda: One person one vote yes, the principle stemming from the equal protection clause.

Ted Simons: When you say under populates certain districts that would by means overpopulating other districts, overpopulation those districts with Republicans correct?

Jeremy Duda: Packing the Republican -- basically moving the Republicans out of some of these other districts and packing them into neighboring districts. There's really three districts they are focusing on specifically, legislative district 8 down in eastern Pinal County area, district 24 in central Phoenix, district 26 mainly in Tempe.

Ted Simons: Alright so, that was the claim. That's what the plaintiffs were arguing. What did the court decide?

Jeremy Duda: The court decided that these districts can stand. There was a variety of reasoning among these three judges, it was a very split court. This three-judge panel, there's one judge who dissented and said he thought the maps should be redrawn. Two agreed they shouldn't but for somewhat different reasons. The main ruling what it said was, well, partisanship played some role. There were some partisan motivations for why they did this to some of these districts, but they said the predominant reason was to comply with the Voting Rights Act and more specifically section 5 of the Voting Rights Act which used to require Arizona to get approval or known as pre-clearance from the United States Department of Justice. Arizona had never actually gotten that on the first try for its redistricting map, so it was important for them to do that. As one of the judges said, because there's no real set criteria by DOJ, it really encourages them to kind of overshoot the mark, get as many majority-minority districts as possible.

Ted Simons: So basically partisanship did play a contributing factor but the panel considered it was not the primary factor?

Jeremy Duda: Yeah, they said the primary factor was a pre-clearance and Voting Rights Act compliance, which they said this was a legitimate purpose and this could stand.

Ted Simons: Okay, so I would imagine some would argue that a contributing factor is a factor nonetheless and that didn't belong in there at all, correct?

Jeremy Duda: Absolutely. Yeah, Judge Neil Wake who was the dissenting judge said clearly this was done with partisan motivation. Even complying with the Voting Rights Act is legitimate thing to do in redistricting, it’s a legitimate factor to use in redrawing the lines, but not in under-populated districts like that.

Ted Simons: It sounds like getting this pre-clearance from the Justice Department on the first try was a big deal. Why is it so important to get it on the first try?

Jeremy Duda: Couple of reasons. I think in part it's kind of a psychological factor. Then there's a more substantive factor, is that until the United States Supreme Court lifted the pre-clearance requirement last year there was a provision in the Voting Rights Act that allowed states and other jurisdictions to get what’s called a bailout, which means if you have a clean record for ten years, with no rejections or complaints from Department of Justice, you can petition the Feds to get that requirement lifted. You can do it you know at the city or county level, or the whole state if the whole state has a clean record. But if you get a complaint or a rejection of a redistricting map that would count that resets the clock for ten years. So that would have meant ten years hence forward you could not bailout, and I don’t think anyone else in the state would have been able to either.

Ted Simons: And now again, you mentioned 2-1 decision, variety of opinions here. It sounds as though one of the judges thought that the only criteria was going to be a partisanship. Another kind of had this primary-secondary kind of thing. Another judge you said dissenting opinion just throw the whole thing out here, you shouldn’t be doing this.

Jeremy Duda: Yeah, even among the two judges who formed the majority there was some disagreement. Judge Clifton said as long as the Voting Rights Act is the predominant reason, some partisanship was okay. They said partisanship was not the predominant reason. Judge Silver said, A, you have to show that partisanship was the only reason this was done, the sole and actual reason is how she put it, then she said, on top of that she didn't think the plaintiffs really properly demonstrated or established that a lot of these decisions were made for partisan reasons.

Ted Simons: And I would imagine those opinions are important, because the next time we go through this process, you don’t want a bunch of folks on the redistricting panel saying, oh we can do a little hedging and fudging here by way of partisanship, they need to have some sort of level, although again the next time they do this a lot has changed as far as the DOJ requirements.

Jeremy Duda: Yeah. Almost certainly the next time redistricting comes up we will still not be under section 5. Congress could theoretically reenact new requirements. I don't think anyone really expects that to happen. What could change, and this will almost certainly be appealed, and because it's a three-judge panel on a redistricting issue, that appeal will go straight to the United States Supreme Court. Depending which one of these judges they agreed with that could set serious precedent.

Ted Simons: Is that what you’re hearing, is that the likelihood, I mead what kind of reaction are we getting from the plaintiffs?

Jeremy Duda: I would be stunned if there was no appeal on this. They have been fighting this for two years and they really want to make this point, they really want to redraw these maps.

Ted Simons: They have been fighting two—13 months even after trial we finally get this decision, it’s a 2-1 mark here. Why so long?

Jeremy Duda: I think all of these disagreements probably shed some light on why it took so long. Part of it was that Supreme Court ruling last year on the pre-clearance issue came down over the summer and the judges came back and said we want all you guys to submit briefings on what, if any, impact that's going to have on this. That clearly persuaded Judge Wake, who said now that pre-clearance is not a factor we shouldn't be looking at this at all. It should be redrawn. On top of that even when you have the two judges in the majority disagreeing on so much it kind of indicates why it took so long. A few months ago a few us, I mean a few other reporters actually ran into Judge Silver at the courthouse and asked when the ruling was coming down. She said, well, you know, there's three judges.

Ted Simons: Yes, yes, she probably had her mind made up perhaps then. This now helps a lot in terms of statewide legislative races because it removes that uncertainty doesn't it?

Jeremy Duda: Yeah. Even if the court had ruled that some or all of these districts had to be redrawn, there probably isn't enough time to do that this year. We're so late, it’s less than a month now until candidates have to file their signatures to get on the ballot, some of them have already done so. So for this year, the lines probably would have been set but next year, or for the next election in 2016 who knows?

Ted Simons: I would imagine most state lawmakers have probably gone ahead with their plans I should say, with the current boundaries. If changes had to be made, so be it. But, I think it would be kind of wise to get on the ground running as soon as possible.

Jeremy Duda: Yeah, it would have been hard to get everything. You would have to call the commission back, they would have had to get all their work done in time within a very short time frame.

Ted Simons: Last question. This is one of many challenges to what the redistricting commission did regarding drawing political maps. I know that the congressional maps, that has been challenged. It seems like that's bottled up. What do we know about that and what do we know about the idea of a commission being challenged for doing this at all?

Jeremy Duda: Well there's two other lawsuits that are still outstanding. One you mentioned is in the superior court challenging the congressional districts. Basically that alleges that the independent redistricting commission did not properly follow the criteria that are set out in the Arizona constitution for how they are supposed to draw these. The last briefings in that were in August and we just haven't seen anything on that since then. It seems like it's really languishing and no one is really sure when it’s going to start moving forward again. The other one, this is a lawsuit filed by the legislature alleging that the independent redistricting commission actually lacks authority under the United States constitution to draw congressional districts, they say that the elections clause of the constitution guarantee those rights to the state legislature, and that when they say that they mean legislature. They lost that in Federal District Court. That's now being appealed to the Supreme Court.

Ted Simons: Alright so it's over, kind of sort of, at least for now.

Jeremy Duda: For Now.

Ted Simons: Jeremy great stuff good to have you.
Jeremy Duda: Thanks, Ted.

Sustainability: Edible Campus

  |   Video
  • A group of volunteers at Arizona State University grow and harvest many kinds of edibles on campus. We’ll show you how many can benefit from a source a fresh food right on campus.
Category: Sustainability   |   Keywords: sustainability, edible, campus, asu, fresh, food, harvest, benefit,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: ASU is home to a unique group of volunteers and as producer Shana Fischer and photographer Steve Snow show us, some of the volunteers on the Tempe campus are putting their green thumbs to good use.

Shana Fischer: Not in an Orchard but in the middle of ASU's Tempe campus. Miles is part of an all-volunteer program run by Deborah Thirkill.

Deborah Thirkill: Campus harvest is a program here at ASU that we harvest everything on campus from our dates, our sour oranges. Nobody goes hungry on our campus.

Shana Fischer: The entire 750 acre campus is an urban garden with an Edible landscape, all available to the students. It was the vision of the former ASU president Lattie Coor. For miles the concept behind an edible campus was a welcome one.

Miles Campos: Coming from out of the state I really, when I first got to Phoenix and especially ASU all I saw was desert and it seemed sterile to me. Nothing grew, and it was just empty.

Shana Fischer: Miles soon learned there was more growing here than he realized. Including date palm trees.

Deborah Thirkill: ASU's unique in that we're in the Sonoran desert and we can grow these date palms, and it’s so unique to this area.

Shana Fischer: ASU's grounds keeping crew harvest the dates that grow on 80 trees throughout the campus. Volunteers package them and then they are sold at campus bookstores and farmers markets. There also used in ASU's dining halls. Nearly 5,000 pounds of dates are harvested in a single season. Campus harvest extends beyond the trees.

Miles Campos: Right now, I have Brussels sprouts, beets and carrots.

Shana Fischer: Miles and about a dozen other students, have their own gardens growing on the Southside of the social sciences building.

Miles Campos: It feels good to be a farmer, it’s almost like a spiritual experience for me. You get that dirt under your fingernails and you make something. It's a really wonderful experience.

Shana Fischer: The students are given an 8 by 10 foot plot and can plant whatever they want. Peppers, squash, even herbs. The only requirement, they have to maintain their own garden. They’re also free to do what they want with the fruits of their labor. They can sell the veggies at farmers' markets or to ASU's campud dining. They can give them to friends or keep them for themselves. Bianca Zietal, who is a biology major, sees this as a chance to experience firsthand what she studies in the classroom.

Bianca Zietal: When I walk around campus and I see the variety of plants growing, edible and nonedible, it makes me happy to see that there is this sort of integration of flora and people being able to see where your fruit is coming from. Especially the dates, which are sold on campus. It kind of creates this sense of unity, in that you know the origins of your food, and so you can appreciate where it comes from.

Shana Fischer: Miles, who spends most of his day on a campus the size of a small city, relishes the opportunity to do something with and for his community.

Miles Campos: We're growing it, we're maintaining it, we're eating it. It's staying here, it’s staying in our community. It's local. We know the quality of the food and it's just a wonderful experience to know that you're supporting your classmates and your friends and feeding each other.

Ted Simons: If you would like to volunteer for harvesting, just head to the program's edible campus website for a calendar of events.