ASU cancer research explained in creative ways

June 11, 2018

Could plants, fungi and animals provide information to scientists on preventing cancer in humans? It’s possible, according to researchers at ASU’s newly created Arizona Cancer and Evolution Center

Established by an $8.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, the center will serve as a hub for research scientists dedicated to understanding cancer through an evolutionary and ecological lens. It will offer physicians and researchers new insights and tools for both studying and controlling cancer.   Professor of Practice Pauline Davies. Download Full Image

Parlaying those discoveries to public discourse will include outreach lead Pauline Davies, a professor of practice at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication.

Davies, who helped write the grant proposal awarded to ASU, spent more than a decade as a science broadcaster for the BBC, as well as at its Australian counterpart, the ABC.

As outreach lead, Davies will promote training in interdisciplinary science, disseminate important research findings to the community, and engage the public in cancer systems biology research.

“Pauline Davies’ work exemplifies the importance of expertise in human communication in all aspects of our everyday lives,” said Linda Lederman, director and professor of the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. “Her understanding of effective communication underlies her ability to design the outreach component which is crucial to this important scientific project.”

Davies and the Arizona Cancer and Evolution Center will collaborate with artists and musicians to help the public view cancer from new angles, with exhibits in museums and hospitals. A cactus garden next to the Biodesign Institute at ASU will also highlight how many organisms, including plants, can live with cancer.

“As part of our outreach efforts, we are working on developing a non-scary presentation on cancer to schoolchildren,” Davies said. “Children are very curious about science, and it’s entirely possible some may even become inspired to study science and enter the field of cancer research as well.”

Davies added that she feels privileged to be working with so many talented artists, scholars and researchers who want to help save lives through innovative means.

“It’s not only a great learning experience for me, but I also hope to inspire others to become involved as well.”

Find more information on the Arizona Cancer and Evolution Center.

Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication


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Indiana Jones' archaeology ideas? They belong in a museum!

June 11, 2018

Thirty-seven years after 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' premiered, real ASU archaeologists bust Hollywood-influenced myths

It’s a disclaimer that echoes passionately through the lecture halls of every beginning archaeology course: It’s not like the Indiana Jones movies!

Inspiring a new generation of researchers to value and explore the past is Dr. Jones’ single contribution to the field. But for those who commit their time and expertise to the study of past humans, the iconic, whip-cracking rogue has become a major cliché.

That’s why we’ve gathered four real archaeologists from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" premiered 37 years ago this week, and these experts are out to help dispel some of the myths that Harrison Ford's iconic character has ingrained so deeply in our minds.

Myth No. 1: The goal of archaeology is to find things to put in museums

photo of Baker excavating at a field site

Associate Professor Brenda Baker excavates at a dig site.

Associate Professor Brenda Baker: While stocking museums was a goal of antiquarians in the 19th and early 20th centuries, archaeologists have long been much more interested in the information they can obtain by documenting what past people left behind. Many of the most mundane artifacts, including trash like broken potsherds and bits of animal bone, tell us more about the way people lived than the items that are typically exhibited in museums.

Myth No. 2: Archaeologists mostly work alone, using nothing but a shovel and their wits

Photo of Morehart using a flotation tank

Associate Professor Christopher Morehart uses a flotation tank at his field site in Mexico for botanical analysis.

Associate Professor Christopher Morehart: Archaeologists work most effectively in teams, which involve a range of people — including professional archaeologists, specialists and students. One enormous change is that researchers are also increasingly collaborating with local communities. Modern archaeological methods go beyond excavation and use an advanced range of tools, including geological analyses, chemical analyses of stones and clays, the study of animal and plant remains, sophisticated remote sensing (ranging from things like satellite imagery, multi-spectral drone imagery, ground penetrating radar and LiDAR), GPS, total station mapping, and the chemical study of human remains to understand diet and biogeography.

Myth No. 3: Archaeology is all about fieldwork

Photo of lab table with vials, teeth casts and tools

Archaeologists spend a lot of time preparing for fieldwork and analyzing data after the fieldwork is over.

Baker: Fieldwork is only one component of a much longer process. Considerable background research takes place before even going into the field, such as using remote sensing to identify and locate sites. Then after a field season, there’s extensive lab work to process the data, analyze all the artifacts or skeletal remains, and synthesize the information for publication.

Myth No. 4: Artifacts are the only way to learn about ancient people’s lives

Photo of Stojanowski taking notes at his field site

Professor Christopher Stojanowski takes notes at his field site in Niger.

Professor Christopher Stojanowski: I am a bioarchaeologist who studies skeletal remains, so I would say that the impact of people’s lives on their bodies is one of the better indicators of what the past was like for them. But beyond the physical, many archaeologists also study geological signatures and the overall pattern of human settlements on the landscape. There is a lot more to archaeology than just the stuff that people leave behind, and the reality is that the materials we find are only those made of things that preserve, which is a biased snapshot of the past right at the outset. 

Myth No. 5: The past only matters to universities and treasure-hunters

Photo of Knudson talking to student in her lab

Professor Kelly Knudson talks to a student in her Archaeological Chemistry Laboratory.

Professor Kelly Knudson: After we spend long hours doing tedious work in the field and laboratory, it's rewarding to learn about the everyday lives of people who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago. Archaeology is important to our present and future, and as archaeologists, it’s up to us to preserve and protect the past as our common heritage.

Top photo: Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) doing some pretty bad archaeology in "Raiders of the lost Ark," which was released on June 12, 1981. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Mikala Kass

Editorial Communications Coordinator , School of Human Evolution and Social Change


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Mow less, bee happy

Mowing your lawn less often is better for the grass, flowers and bees.
June 8, 2018

New study says skip the yard work this weekend; cutting grass less frequently leads to a healthier backyard ecosystem

"Gonna be a hot one today," you think as you look out the kitchen window on a Saturday morning. The last thing you want to do is mow the lawn.

What say you spend the day in the air conditioning with a glass of iced tea instead? Sound good? Of course it does.

But what if not cutting the grass made you an environmental hero by nursing the health of your immediate ecosystem? Sounds even better.

Trimming the verge every two weeks instead of weekly could help bees and the plants they gather pollen from, according to a recent study which an Arizona State University faculty member contributed to. The study was published in the journal Biological Conservation.

The “lazy lawn mower” approach favors a look which is a little bit more meadow and less center court Wimbledon, said Christofer Bang, a lecturer in the School of Life Sciences. It’s more than a lawn out there. It’s a little ecosystem.

“Many people tend to perceive a fresh cut lawn as an indication of a well maintained garden, and this perception is something we try to adjust by highlighting the many organisms in the small ecosystem (that) a garden really is,” Bang said. “It’s so much more than a lawn, even when there’s not really many rose bushes or begonias."

The advantage to caring for your local bees? They pollinate 87 percent of all flowering plants. Bee-dependent trees, shrubs, garden plants, and spontaneous flowers present in cities and suburbs provide shade, reduce air pollution, increase property value, and enhance wildlife habitat.

Video by Jamie Ell/ASU Now

Researchers mowed 16 lawns in western Massachusetts suburbs at frequencies of one, two and three weeks.

Lawns mowed every three weeks had two and a half times more lawn flowers than the other frequencies. Interestingly, lawns mowed every two weeks supported the highest number of bees yet the lowest bee richness and evennessthe amount of variety of bees. Researchers suspect higher grass at the three-week point prevented bees from reaching the clover and dandelions beneath.

“If you think about mowing your lawn as a form of disturbance of the little ecosystem, you also find that things may change if you alter the frequency of this disturbance,” Bang said.

More abundant flowers, easier access to flowers, and a more drastic impact on grass biomass and floral resources (compared with three-week yards), two-week yards were the sweet spot.

“Mowing less frequently is practical, economical and a time-saving alternative to replacing lawns or even planting pollinator gardens,” said Susannah Lerman, who authored the study and works as an ecologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the U.S. Forest Service.

Changing how often you mow is a new and creative approach for supporting urban biodiversity by rethinking what role lawns play in enriching urban areas.

“Mowing less frequently … has the potential to be widely adopted if it can overcome barriers to social acceptance,” the researchers wrote. “Most importantly, our research shows that individual households can contribute to urban conservation.”

Above photo: NAU sophomore Bryson Leander mows his family's backyard lawn in north-central Phoenix on Thursday, May 31. While home on summer break, he cuts the grass every 10 days to two weeks, depending on irrigation and rain. An ASU researcher, Christofer Bang, and his colleagues produced a study experimentally testing whether different lawn mowing frequencies influenced bee abundance and diversity. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now. Special thanks to Bryson Leander.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU programs give kids a head start on sustainability

June 8, 2018

Children engage in learning about nature, writing and science in Young Adult Writing Program by exchanging emails — with trees

As Dorothy and the Scarecrow learned, sometimes nature talks back. In the land of Oz, that meant taking an apple in the face from a tree. For a group of elementary students attending the Young Adult Writing Program (YAWP) at ASU this month, the trees across the Tempe campus are responding in a much less frightening fashion — via email.

Associate Professor of English and director of YAWP’s parent organization, the Central Arizona Writing Project (a local offshoot of the National Writing Project), Jessica Early themed this year’s iteration of the program around the intersection of writing and science as part of the national project’s agenda to embed innovative writing instruction into science learning for youth.

And that’s not the only way folks at ASU are providing kids with an appreciation for and strong foundation of knowledge about the natural world: The Sustainability Teachers’ Academy has been educating K–12 teachers across the nation on how to incorporate sustainability science into their classroom curriculum since 2015.

Mankind’s current trajectory as it relates to the Earth’s resources is not sustainable, said Molly Cashion, regional program manager for the Sustainability Teachers’ Academy. “So it’s really beneficial to students to start that kind of thinking earlier in the K–12 sphere because it’s going to inform the way we’ll move forward in the future with jobs and how we live in the world.”

The trees write back

Early’s idea to have kids write to trees as part of YAWP was inspired by an Atlantic article detailing a program in Melbourne, Australia, where various trees were assigned email addresses so that residents could report issues like dangerous branches. Instead, people wrote musing letters to the trees about their beauty, current events and life in general.

That kind of engagement with nature and the respect it engenders is exactly what Early was hoping to achieve, and it appears to have worked — more than one of the children wrote to the trees on ASU’s campus thanking them for providing the oxygen that allows them to live.

Still more were besotted with a sudden curiosity for the all things green, asking questions like, Why is stuff poisonous? And, why do avocados have seeds?

“The idea is to inspire a feeling of wonder in kids when it comes to the outdoors,” said Kelly Hedberg, program instructor and founder of Dig It! Outdoors, an after-school gardening program that specializes in garden-based education for children, adults and educators in Arizona schools, community and public settings.​

“In school we don’t really learn about nature,” said Jackson Sitchler, 10, who attends Ward Traditional Academy in Tempe. But he was clearly enjoying himself at YAWP — an anthropomorphized onion he drew to illustrate a writing assignment sparked dozens of questions from other kids wanting to know things like, Do onions have genders?

Catalina Bracamonte

Catalina Bracamonte, 8, of Phoenix, examines the texture of a palm tree at the Young Adult Writing Program for fourth and fifth graders from around the Valley on June 6, 2018. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Early met Hedberg and fellow YAWP instructor and Dig It! Outdoors educator Cory Pfitzer through the program’s involvement with Broadmor Elementary in Tempe, where their children go to school.

Sensing an opportunity to leverage Hedberg and Pfitzer’s gardening knowledge in service of merging science education with the arts, Early invited them to attend a National Writing Project workshop on teaching writing and science, then worked with them to embed writing workshops into the Dig It! Outdoors curriculum for grades K–5 at Broadmor. Finally, they adapted that same model for YAWP.

“Their work as informal and formal educators to bridge science learning and writing practice is creative, innovative, and socially and environmentally embedded,” Early said. “This is some of the most rewarding work I get to be a part of, and I am inspired by such amazing educators and the ways they are influencing Arizona youth at local schools, in the community and at ASU.”

Sustainability education starts early

And it appears ASU programs like the Sustainability Teachers’ Academy are influencing local educators in kind. Recently, Jilliann Feltham, a nutrition education program coordinator for the Osborn School District in Phoenix and an alum of the academy, collaborated with ASU sustainability alum Amanda Coates to implement a composting program at schools in the district.

“It’s a really great example of how the academy doesn’t just show teachers how to teach sustainability science curriculum” but also encourages them to demonstrate it through tangible projects, Cashion said.

The Sustainability Teachers' Academy is hosting three five-day workshops for K–12 teachers this summer: at the University of Montana June 18–22; at Paul Smith’s College July 16–20; and at Emory and Henry College July 30-Aug. 3.

The academy is also working to develop a database detailing sustainability projects teachers have created to serve as a resource for others, which will be accessible later this year, and hopes to put more of an emphasis on helping local schools with such longer-term endeavors as continued teacher training and connecting with local stakeholders.

Top photo: YAWP instructor and Dig It! Outdoors educator Kelly Hedberg teaches kids about the texture of the eucalyptus tree bark on ASU's Tempe campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Why are humans so obsessed with self-documenting?

Phone cameras are 21 years old, but humans have been documenting forever.
June 8, 2018

On the 21st anniversary of the first cell phone photo, an ASU historian looks at the evolution and future of capturing our own image

Was this the face that launched a trillion selfies?

A small newborn, Sophie, wrapped in baby blankets and with a full head of hair, was photographed by her father Philippe Kahn on June 11, 1997. What's unique about the image is Kahn took it with a makeshift cell phone camera that sent the image immediately to all of his friends and family in real time, making it the first cell phone photograph.

Now it seems taking photos with our cell phones is as natural as breathing, and people born less than 21 years ago, like Sophie, will likely share hundreds — if not thousands — of photos using their phones in their lives and never give it a second thought.

On this interesting technological anniversary we asked Arizona State University art historian and Professor Corine Schleif, whose research focuses on Medieval and Rennaisance art, to reflect on our human desire to document our lives, and how it's manifested over the centuries.

Question: The first photo sent via cell phone was a picture of Kahn’s daughter to his friends and family. Have we always had a desire to document our lives like this?

Answer: I think that we have always had a desire to document our lives — our presence, our being there — to make ourselves ever-present or to prolong the present. We haven’t always wanted so much of our everyday lives to be documented, however.

Q: Sending a photo of your new baby seems like a modern thing to do; was there any similar behavior in the past?

A: Certainly whole families wanted to be recorded. We have epitaphs from the Renaissance that document whole families, not showing them at an everyday activity, but formally posed: palms pressed together, kneeling in prayer. Thus they could pray for all eternity. The arrangement showed their positions in the family: mother, father, daughter, son, arranged hierarchically according to gender and birth order. One moment in time was perpetuated in that these portraits differentiate the various ages or stages in life. For example, girls, marriageable women, married women and widows would have worn specific hair styles or head coverings. Nuns, priests and monks were also distinguished by their dress. 

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Detail from the Epitaph for Ursula Holzschuher Imhoff. The different headcoverings and positioning of the figures related to the family hierarchy and ages of the members at the time of the image's creation.

Q: How is a cell phone camera photograph different than past mediums?

A: We use our phones and pocket cameras to produce something that is more momentary than a painted portrait and more ephemeral than even a paper snapshot. They are quickly made and quickly discarded. But we also produce far more of them than did our predecessors using the more expensive and time-consuming media of the past. We can therefore be less worried about how good or bad we might appear. These pictures also function as an aid to memory. They provide a quick, easy way in which to share a moment, but these are ever-changing glimpses and very unlike the moment in a sculpted epitaph or painted portrait in which the makers composed a condensed formal idealized summary moment for all eternity.

Q: Do you think cell phone cameras have changed the way we interact with art?

A: Yes. We can now often take a picture of the art along with us. This means we can take it into our own possession — whether it is architecture that we admire or detest or a great master painting that we finally got to see in a big museum or an image shown in a lecture that might be on the exam.

Q: Have cell phone cameras affected the way we make art?

A: Yes. Painters of the 19th and early 20th century often used photographs — but didn’t want to admit it. Today preparatory photography no longer carries such a stigma and I think that using pictures as part of our rhetoric is becoming increasingly important to everyone. I would hope that in the future everyone would make more use of pictorial rhetoric — not just artists. Scholars of the future will hopefully no longer see the necessity of transforming everything into written language. There’s a lot of truth to the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Q: Past mediums like painted portraits were expensive and not readily available, yet most folks today have a cell phone camera. How will that affect the way we document ourselves in the future?

A: Cell phone cameras make photography and self-documentation far more democratic. The ease of photographing, archiving, duplicating and sharing makes it possible to document nearly everything pictorially. So we will be able to make and view more pictures showing process and events — including videos. We can now so easily make videos with sound that we can store in our little devices, which can be used by law enforcement, journalists, teachers, students, craftsmen, hobbyists and politicians. My hope is that we can one day take this several steps further, that we can move from the current distinction between the object in the picture/video and the subject taking the photograph or making the video. In virtual reality we will one day be able to feel what it is like to be the people that we now photograph or film. Perhaps one day we will be able to send each other digital files that not only preserve the look on someone’s face when they are sailing or parachuting but actually to share some of the sensations as if we were they. Ultimately this might help us to have more empathy for each other and for all living creatures.

Working to solve the puzzle that is drug addiction: ASU neuroscientist Foster Olive promoted to full professor

June 8, 2018

Drug addiction is complex, and Arizona State University neuroscientist Foster Olive has spent his career working to unravel why and how the brain becomes addicted to drugs.

The ASU Department of Psychology recently promoted Olive from associate professor to full professor because of his research efforts. Foster Olive, professor of psychology Foster Olive, professor of psychology at ASU. Photo by Robert Ewing Download Full Image

A feel-good piece of the drug addiction puzzle

Olive runs the Addiction Neuroscience Lab at ASU. His interest in drug addiction began when he was in graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles. At UCLA, he spent some time working in a lab that studied how morphine affected endorphins in the brain, and he was fascinated by how endorphins might contribute to drug addiction.

“Endorphins do not receive as much attention as other neuromodulatory systems that are involved in drug addiction, like dopamine,” Olive said. “But, they play an important role in addiction and recovery.”

Endorphins are chemicals made by the nervous system that block pain and create good feelings. Exercise and laughter cause endorphins to be released, but opiate drugs like heroin also work on the same neuronal systems.

Olive recently received a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how alcohol activates the endorphin system in the brain. This particular NIH grant program was motivated by the finding that naltrexone, an endorphin-blocking drug that is well-known for its capability to reverse opiate overdoses, is also effective at treating alcoholism.

To test how alcohol affects the brain’s endorphin system, Olive and his team use special animals who have endorphin neurons that literally light up, or fluoresce, when the neurons become active. The researchers can measure how the endorphin system responds to alcohol. Currently, they are focusing on an area of the brain called the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a “clearing house” in the brain, and neurons in this area are involved in wide-ranging processes like control of body temperature, hunger, thirst sleep and emotions.

“Once we identify a region or circuit in the brain that is affected by alcohol, we can start to figure out how to dampen the effect of alcohol without interfering with other functions,” Olive said.

A social piece of the addiction puzzle

The Addiction Neuroscience Lab also focuses on how social relationships affect drug addiction.

“Opiate addicts are known to isolate themselves, and strong relationships are known to be protective and helpful for recovery,” Olive said. “Social effects are only partially understood in addiction research but are a very important area.”

Olive and his graduate student Seven Tomek recently published a paper in Addiction Biology that examined how the opiate heroin affected prosocial behavior in an animal model. The study looked at what happened when animals were given a choice between sugar pellets and rescuing a trapped animal or between heroin and rescuing the trapped animal. The researchers found that the animals who received sugar pellets kept rescuing the trapped animals. The animals who received heroin completely stopped rescuing. This study could lead to a possible mechanism for dysfunctional social behavior in opiate addicts or to improved treatments for opiate addiction.

West to east, and back again

Olive’s path to Tempe started in California and went through South Carolina. After earning his doctorate at UCLA, Olive completed two postdoctoral fellowships: one at Stanford University and a second at the University of California, San Francisco. He worked for five years at the Medical University of South Carolina before moving back west. Olive joined the ASU Department of Psychology in 2010.

“Foster Olive is an extremely productive researcher of how drugs of abuse create dependence and addiction; his work is theoretically thoughtful and sophisticated, methodologically innovative, and highly influential in the field. Indeed, he is a leading scholar, nationally and internationally,” said Steven Neuberg, Foundation Professor of psychology and department chair. “He is also an excellent, dedicated teacher and mentor, and goes far beyond the call with his service to the discipline, the department and university, and the broader community. The Department of Psychology and ASU are significantly stronger because of Professor Olive.”

Science writer, Psychology Department


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Finding peace in the ER

Burnout is common among nurses. An ASU dean says mindfulness can help.
June 7, 2018

ASU College of Nursing Dean Emerita Teri Pipe on how mindfulness can prevent health provider burnout and improve patient outcomes

We count on nurses for a lot of things — to be a calming presence, a helping hand, a source of knowledge. Filling those roles is demanding enough, and with the added pressure of a nursing shortage on the horizon, already tired, overworked RNsregistered nurses may not be getting a break any time soon.

As dean emerita of ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Teri Pipe knows all about burnout in the health care field. As the director of ASU’s Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience, she also knows about a potent antidote.

For Pipe’s final project for her Robert Wood Johnson Executive Fellowship, she created a video featuring nurses telling stories of how they used the practice of mindfulness to help them through difficult situations. “In the Moment: Stories of Mindfulness in Nursing” was recently accepted to the National Academy of Medicine’s new art collection on clinician well-being and resilience.

ASU Now asked her to share more of her insights about the practice and how it is beneficial for both nurses and patients alike.

ASU nursing dean Teri Pipe headshot

Dean of ASU's College of Nursing and Health Innovation Teri Pipe

Question: What does mindfulness in the health care field look like? How is it practiced?

Answer: In health care, mindfulness at its best is often practiced as a focused presence between the health care provider and the patient. Mindfulness is focused awareness to what is happening for that particular patient in the moment; it is linked with patient safety and quality of care because providers are able to filter out unimportant distractions and care for the patient. It is an unhurried, empathetic way of being with someone, listening carefully not only to the words that are said, but also to the underlying meaning and emotional tone. 

Q: How is the practice of mindfulness beneficial to nurses and other health care providers?

A: Mindfulness can be an excellent way of preventing and addressing burnout, exhaustion and compassion fatigue. By focusing on the present moment, nurses and other health-care providers can keep the mind from being pulled to the past (rumination, depression) or the future (worry, anxiety) and stay focused on the reality of the present. In this way, people are more able to live by design rather than by default, making more considered choices rather than simply reacting automatically. Once an individual learns to practice mindfulness, it is often the case that they feel more “awake” and alert to all of life, personally as well as professionally.

Q: Can it also be beneficial to patients?

A: Patients often face uncertainty, fear and pain. Mindfulness can’t change the situation, however it can help change the response to the situation, which turns out to be quite powerful. When patients practice even a few minutes of focused breath awareness or a mental scan through the body, they often feel calmer and less likely to create a cognitive narrative of what is happening. By staying with what is real and true in the present moment, the anxiety of the future and the regret of the past are less powerful, and the patient can more effectively allocate attention and energy to what is actually true. They are able to shape their experience a bit more.

I once taught a mindfulness class to a group of patients with cancer. One of the gentlemen was receiving daily radiation treatments, so he decided that instead of just lying passively on the radiation table, he would use his treatment time as his meditation practice time. He said it totally changed his experience into one of active, well-being supportive attention rather than feeling like something was being done “to” him. His situation didn’t change, but his experience of it did. He showed up so differently that his health care team actually remarked on the difference!

Q: Why is the practice of mindfulness gaining traction in the health care field?

A: Jon Kabat-Zinn brought mindfulness to patients at UMass Medical Center as early as 1979, and his eight-week training program, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, is the gold standard in terms of the emerging research in the area of mindfulness and health. Mindfulness practice for nurses, physicians, veterinarians and other health-care professionals is being more widely recognized as a preventive strategy for anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. The rate of burnout, depression and suicide in these sectors is high and receiving more attention than in the past. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement recently published an entire module in their Open School about mindfulness in health care, including the link between mindfulness and patient safety and mindfulness and workforce burnout prevention.

Q:  How is ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation incorporating mindfulness into its philosophy?

A: The college leadership has implemented mindfulness practices in some meetings and in individual classes. There is a CONHICollege of Nursing and Health Innovation major in integrative health that has a component of mindfulness, but mostly the integration of mindfulness depends a lot on the individual faculty member. We want to make mindfulness an opportunity, but not a mandated approach. Like many innovations, it is best met with an open mind and healthy skepticism, and it is a very personal practice. Across ASU we are finding that faculty are integrating mindfulness practices into courses in most disciplines, including health, engineering, design, dance, psychology, sustainability and athletics. It is relevant to virtually any field.

Top photo courtesy of

Celebrating and remembering Thomas Dishion, ASU Regents’ Professor of psychology

June 7, 2018

Arizona State University has lost a luminary in the field of prevention science: Thomas Dishion died June 1.

He earned his Bachelor of Art in philosophy at the University of California, Santa Barbara before moving to the University of Oregon for his master’s and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology. Dishion started his academic career at Oregon in 1988 and moved to ASU in 2011. He was named an ASU Regents’ Professor of psychology in February. Tom Dishion, Regents Professor of Psychology Thomas Dishion, ASU Regents’ Professor of Psychology Download Full Image

Dishion was a central figure advancing the field of prevention science, which brings techniques or interventions backed by research into the community. At Oregon, he founded the Child and Family Center, and at ASU, he re-envisioned prevention science by founding and directing the REACH Institute in the Department of Psychology.

Dishion was described by his colleague Nicholas Ialongo, professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Heath, as having an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

This thirst led Dishion to study how deviant behavior can be reinforced among adolescent peers and can lead to substance abuse, violence and delinquency. In 1999, he published a paper in American Psychologist that examined how peer reinforcement of deviant behavior can occur in group therapy, thereby causing clinical interventions designed to help teenagers to instead backfire. This paper influenced federal guidelines for group therapy interventions for adolescents.

“Tom was not only an icon in prevention science; he was also a premier developmental psychopathologist. His research on the development of antisocial behavior and substance use over the early life course and into adulthood is among the most informative of its kind from both a theoretical and empirical standpoint,” Ialongo said.

Sharlene Wolchik, professor and co-director of the REACH Institute, described Dishion as passionately believing that basic science research should form the foundation for interventions for at-risk youth. This conviction led Dishion to also focus on the parent-child relationship, specifically how interactions between a parent and child could unintentionally reinforce unhealthy behaviors that can then lead to problem behaviors in the future. To break the cycle of reinforcing unhealthy behaviors — in parent or child — Dishion took his research findings on group dynamics in adolescents beyond the university walls and developed the Family Check-Up program.

“Tom's developmental psychopathology research informed the development of the Family Check-Up and numerous other prevention interventions targeting antisocial behavior and substance abuse,” Ialongo added.

The Family Check-Up program targets at-risk families with young children and teaches parenting skills that improve the interactions between parents and children. These simple parenting skills have wide-ranging effects and protect children against substance abuse and a range of mental health problems years later in life.

“The Family Check-Up represents a leap forward from behavior problem treatment to the prevention of the problem behaviors, in a context that affords universal implementation,” said Kenneth Dodge, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. “This approach has the potential to move the needle in population health, which is rare for psychological interventions.”

Dishion’s efforts developing and implementing the Family Check-Up program in the community earned him the 2010 Prevention Science Award from the Society for Prevention Science.

“Many, many families in the U.S. and four other countries are benefitting from Tom's careful research and passion for making life better for at-risk youth,” Wolchik said.

Daniel Shaw, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, collaborated with Dishion and described Dishion’s ability to translate basic science research into a successful intervention as unparalleled.

“Tom is up there as one of the most creative and free-thinking scientists I will ever meet,” Shaw said. “He has few equals in the field.”

Dishion was a prolific scholar who was passionate about using rigorous methods in his research that he then applied to his interventions. During his 30-year career, he published over 300 papers in peer-reviewed journals, was awarded more than $100 million in federal research grants and trained myriad scientists. His papers were heavily cited, which means his work widely influenced other scientists.

“Tom had a tremendous impact on research in developmental science. He introduced game-changing questions, theory, and methods on a broad range of topics such as bullying, the developmental course of antisocial behavior, and the neurobiology of young adult romantic relationships,” said Nancy Gonzales, incoming dean of natural sciences, Foundation Professor of psychology and co-director of the REACH Institute. “For this work, Tom received the 2019 Urie Bronfenbrenner Award for Lifetime Contribution to Developmental Psychology in the Service of Science and Society.”

The Bronfenbrenner award is presented by the Developmental Psychology division of the American Psychological Association to scientists whose research has advanced developmental psychology but who also apply their research efforts to society. Dishion’s award will be presented posthumously at the 2019 annual meeting of the association.

“Tom was a special man in so many ways,” said Steven Neuberg, Foundation Professor and chair of the Department of Psychology. “As a scholar, his scientific contributions were remarkable. As a contributor to our broader society, his creation of empirically sound, evidence-based interventions to enhance the well-being of at-risk children, adolescents, and families is nothing less than inspiring. And he was a good friend to so many. We will greatly miss him.”

Dishion strongly believed universities should be actively involved in the community, and his Family Check-Up program is used widely in the U.S. and also internationally. Through his efforts to offer research-based interventions to society, he exemplified the values and goals of the New American University.

Dishion is survived by his wife, Thao Ha, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology; his children Tom Jr., Jacob and Briana; their spouses Lauriza, Cindy and Chris; and his grandchildren Lanie, Adriana, Dominic, Nathan, Isabelle and Nora.

A celebration of Dishion’s life is being planned at ASU at the beginning of the fall semester. 

Science writer, Psychology Department


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ASU Obesity Solutions looks back on 5 years of progress

$36M in funding has been brought in across ASU to fund obesity research.
June 7, 2018

More than one-third of American adults and roughly 17 percent of children in the U.S. are obese, a condition behind some of the leading causes of preventable death, including heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Five years ago Arizona State University launched Obesity Solutions, a uniquely transdisciplinary initiative funded by a donation from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, to address the health concern. It was spearheaded by the late Provost Emerita Elizabeth Capaldi Phillips, whose career of research on food psychology aimed to understand why we eat what we do and how we can spur behavior changes to encourage healthier lives.

Since then, over $14 million has been generated in additional research dollars through the initiative to test and share solutions and train the next generation of scientists to tackle the issue. A total of $36 million in funding for obesity-related research has been brought in across the entire university in the same time period, indicating how much ASU’s overall activity in this timely research area is growing.

“The thing that made Provost Capaldi’s vision unique among national efforts was that this initiative was truly transdisciplinary,” said Alexandra Brewis Slade, Obesity Solutions co-director and President's Professor at ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

“Obesity isn’t caused by a single factor; it’s a complex problem with multiple layers, not just medical but also geographic, psychological and cultural. If we just come at it from one direction, we’re going to miss identifying the most effective solutions.”

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Co-director of ASU Obesity Solutions Alexandra Brewis Slade.

The history of obesity in American can be traced back to the end of WWII, when widespread industrialization resulted in a shift from active jobs to more sedentary ones, along with increased access to high-calorie processed foods.

Over the years, many solutions have been offered for obesity but they mostly focused on individual behavior, which turned out to be counterproductive.

“Research shows that people don’t like to be told to lose weight,” Brewis Slade said. “It makes them anxious. It’s much better to build the environments in which healthy behaviors become the default setting.”

So for the past five years, Obesity Solutions has focused on rethinking how to approach unintended weight gain, and creating and scaling a number of signature projects in local Maricopa County communities that focus on solutions that work for real people in the real world — solutions that are easy to implement, don’t require special equipment and that actually work.

One of the most successful of these projects is FitPHX Energy Zones. Developed in partnership with the Phoenix Mayor’s Office and Department of Parks and Recreation, FitPHX Energy Zones repurpose the city’s public libraries as spaces where kids can go after school to learn from ASU student interns about nutrition and healthy living.

Among other benefits, children participating in the program showed higher rates of self-esteem, less sedentism, significant gains in health literacy, and more fruit and vegetable consumption. 

The FitPHX Energy Zones project is an example of effective programming because it so cleverly addresses multiple issues at once, Brewis Slade said. Not only does it teach kids fun, easy ways to build healthy habits into their life, it does so when they’re young, which research shows is the best time to address and prevent obesity.

Mayor Greg Stanton praised the program for its innovation and effectiveness, saying, “Fighting for our kids’ health is one of the most important things we can do.”

Other similar projects: the Harmon Bike Lab in south Phoenix, where residents have access to a safe, convenient place to repair their bicycles and get help from local experts; DevilSPARC, an NIH-funded project that uses diet and exercise studies in ASU residence halls to encourage students to rethink how better social support can affect their health; and Stand and Move at Work, another NIH-funded project that uses ASU as a test-bed for demonstrating health benefits of workspace designs that encourage movement. Both DevilSPARC and Stand and Move at Work are led by faculty in the College of Health Solutions.

Obesity Solutions researchers are engaging local elementary schools through studies that look at how to improve the nutritional value of school lunches, and are redesigning school curricula to promote non-exercise activity thermogenesisThermogenesis refers to the production of heat, especially in a human or animal body. (NEAT).

Today, faculty from 22 different schools and 17 research centers are conducting externally-funded obesity research at ASU. And with an eye toward the future, Obesity Solutions also supported the establishment of a master’s degree in obesity prevention and management in 2016 to train a new generation of obesity specialists.

And while it’s true there’s no silver bullet for the widespread health challenge, Brewis Slade is sure of one thing: Obesity Solutions’ transdisciplinary approach is the key to making real progress.

“If telling people to lose weight solved the obesity epidemic we wouldn’t have one,” she said. “People are desperately trying to lose weight. But asking each of us to address it alone is a failed strategy. We need to scale it out and look at bigger issues; how we organize our work and home lives, how we educate and treat … all these factors need to be part of the design solution.”

Top photo: Maricopa elementary students prepare fresh fruit as part of a FitPHX Energy Zones lesson. Courtesy Deborah Williams

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National Cancer Institute selects ASU to lead revolutionary research in cancer

ASU awarded cancer research grant to approach the disease in novel ways.
June 7, 2018

University joins consortium to advance understanding of cancer and its clinical management with interdisciplinary approach

Take that, cancer.

Arizona State University has been awarded more than $8.5 million over five years from the National Cancer Institute to establish the Arizona Cancer and Evolution Center. The grant will establish ASU as the hub of an international network of research scientists who are dedicated to understanding cancer in an entirely new way.

“The establishment of the Arizona Cancer and Evolution Center at ASU by the National Cancer Institute positions the university at the forefront of new discoveries through groundbreaking, interdisciplinary approaches,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at ASU. “The convergence of leading-edge theory in evolution and ecology and experimental research and verification paves the way for rapid advances in the fight against a tenacious disease that continues to pose a challenge to researchers everywhere.”

As a designated Cancer Systems Biology Center, the Arizona Cancer and Evolution Center (ACE) will be embedded in a large-scale initiative by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), helping to support their Cancer Systems Biology Consortium (CSBC).

ASU is one of only 13 research institutions nationwide to be selected as a research center in the consortium. ACE will bring together leading researchers from a number of institutions, including the University of Southern California; University of California, Santa Barbara; University of Zurich, Barts Cancer Institute at the Queen Mary University of London; the Institute of Cancer Research in London; the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah; Stanford University; and North Carolina State University. ASU partners include the Biodesign Institute, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, Beyond Center and the Department of Biomedical Informatics.

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Evolution is the theory of cancer. The new Arizona Cancer and Evolution seeks to advance fundamental understanding of cancer and its clinical management through the development and application of evolutionary and ecological models to cancer biology.

The National Cancer Institute’s ambitious network of CSBC centers bring together clinical and basic cancer researchers with physical scientists, engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists to tackle key questions in cancer biology from a novel point of view.

“Cancer is a complex disease and it challenges our traditional approaches, making it hard to predict tumor growth and drug response,” said Daniel Gallahan, deputy director of NCI’s Division of Cancer Biology. “Cancer systems biologists embrace that complexity and use many different types of data to build mathematical models that allow us to make predictions about whether a tumor will metastasize or what drug combinations will be effective.”

“There are great opportunities to use methods from evolution and ecology to improve prediction, prognosis and cancer therapy,” said Carlo Maley, a Biodesign Institute researcher and a professor in the School of Life Sciences, who will head the new center. “Cells in tumors are constantly changing and evolving — measures from evolution and ecology are ideally suited for capturing and quantifying those dynamics. Those dynamics often lead to treatment failure.

"Rather than aggressive efforts to eradicate cancer, which may accelerate the evolution of treatment resistance and resurgence of the tumors, we are learning how to manage cancers so that we can live with the disease but not die from it.”

Maley explains that “all multicellular forms of life are susceptible to cancer, including plants, fungi, and animals. We can discover novel approaches to preventing cancer in humans by studying how other organisms have evolved to prevent cancer. Viewing cancer through an evolutionary and ecological lens offers researchers and physicians profound new insights and tools for both studying and controlling cancer.”

ACE has been established with the recognition that at its core, cancer is a disease rigidly governed by the mechanisms of evolution. Decades of research in the fight against cancer have vastly expanded knowledge of the disease and significantly improved patient treatments and outcomes. Yet despite the labors of thousands of brilliant scientists and clinicians and billions of dollars of research investment, the disease continues to exact a devastating toll on society.

The center’s mission is to advance the fundamental understanding of cancer and its clinical management through the development and application of evolutionary and ecological models to cancer biology. Ongoing research efforts have shown that evolutionary and ecological theory can be used to distinguish low-risk from high-risk tumors, develop novel approaches to cancer prevention, predict long-term response to therapy, and discover the fundamental biology that drives cancer.

“The Biodesign Institute has pursued daring and revolutionary approaches to human health, particularly in the area of cancer biology," said Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the Biodesign Institute and director of the Biodesign Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics. "Leveraging university-wide resources, as well as Biodesign’s particular strengths in applying evolutionary approaches to the puzzle of cancer, the Arizona Cancer and Evolution Center will advance the agenda of the New American University promoted by President Michael Crow, where real world issues of the highest priority are attacked through the most far-sighted and interdisciplinary techniques.”

The overall research themes of the CSBC Research Centers address important questions in basic cancer research, including the emergence of drug resistance, the mechanisms underlying cancer metastasis, the role of evolutionary and ecological processes in tumor progression, and the role of the immune system in cancer progression and treatment.

Research conducted at the Research Centers will focus on the analysis of cancer as a complex biological system. The interdisciplinary investigators of the consortium will integrate experimental biology with mathematical and computational modeling to gain insight into processes relevant to cancer initiation, progression and treatment options.

In addition to applying systems biology methods to gain important insight into cancer, each CSBC Research Center supports an outreach program to promote training in interdisciplinary science, disseminate important research findings to the community, and to engage the public in cancer systems biology research. The Arizona Cancer and Evolution Center is launching innovations in this space as well, including collaborations with artists and musicians to view cancer from new angles, museum exhibits, and the establishment of a cactus garden next to the Biodesign Institute that highlights how many organisms, including plants, can live with cancer (called fasciations).

Sage Bionetworks in Seattle serves as the CSBC Coordinating Center to facilitate data and resource sharing and collaborative scientific activities across the entities of the CSBC, which includes the nine research centers as well as two new research projects.

“The CSBC program encourages team science and promotes a multidisciplinary approach to studying cancer,” said Shannon Hughes, program director for the CSBC. “These approaches are critical to our ultimate goal of improving the lives of cancer patients.”

Research at the Arizona Cancer and Evolution Center or ACE is supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U54CA217376. The content provided here is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Top photo: Carlo Maley will direct the new Arizona Cancer and Evolution Center. He is a researcher in the Biodesign Institute and ASU's School of Life Sciences. Photo by Biodesign Institute

Richard Harth

Science writer , Biodesign Institute at ASU