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Doors Open at LAC+USC Hospital

Modern technology, gleaming facilities and state-of-the-art care await the county’s neediest patients.

Nearly 15 years after the 1994 Northridge earthquake rocked Southern California and left Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center damaged beyond repair, staff, physicians and administrators completed their most skillful operation – moving more than 400 patients from the 1930s-era hospital building into a shining new replacement facility.

The 1.5-million-square-foot facility boasts state-of-the-art equipment and design features, and is home to one of the largest emergency rooms in the country, with 109 beds. All of this will allow USC faculty physicians, residents and medical students to continue their tradition of community medical service that began in 1885 – seven years after the original County Hospital opened with 100 beds and six staff members.

The scope of the project is unprecedented in Los Angeles County, with a cost of roughly $1 billion for construction and equipment. Because the old facility was damaged in the Northridge earthquake, the Federal Emergency Management Agency funded $500 million toward the cost of the new hospital; and at $431 per square foot, it is a relative bargain compared to recent hospital construction projects. The construction costs at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Downey, for example, ran to $612 per square foot, and at the UCLA Ronald Reagan Hospital, costs ran to $921 per square foot.

What do Los Angeles County residents get for $1 billion?

The hospital features a seven-story outpatient tower hosting specialty clinics in psychiatry, ophthalmology, dentistry and orthopedics. The eight-story inpatient tower houses the hospital’s acute care and intensive care units. And at the heart of the new hospital is the five-story diagnostic and treatment building, which contains several departments, including the expanded emergency room, operating rooms and pharmacy.

The new emergency room is three times the physical size of the old one, and the new design has streamlined care and treatment for emergency patients. The new helipad is located on the roof of the diagnostic center, which allows for direct access to the emergency room for the most critical patients. Radiology and surgery also are located in the building, easily accessed by swift new elevators.

With the reduction in licensed beds from 612 at the old hospital to 600 in the new – plus the loss of 212 beds at Women’s and Children’s Hospital – the size of the replacement facility has been a sensitive issue and a concern for doctors, staff and community leaders. However, procedures for more streamlined processing and treating of patients are in place, and officials expect that those efficiencies, along with 50 overflow beds at Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center in Downey, will allow the hospital to operate successfully.

The new medical center also includes multiple design and technological upgrades that speed patient care, increase efficiency and ensure patient, physician and staff safety. Wall-mounted ultrasound imaging equipment in the emergency room, for example, allows physicians to immediately get an in-depth look inside their most critical patients without having to transport them to the radiology department.

Physicians also will have easy access to other specialized equipment and facilities. The new hospital features four computed tomography (CT) scanners, three magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, three linear accelerators, two cardiac catheterization laboratories and a combination positron emission tomography (PET/CT) scanner.

Because earthquake damage resulted in the need to build the new hospital, earthquake safety was a major consideration in its design and construction.

According to hospital officials, major portions of the new facility are designed to withstand earthquakes with a magnitude of up to 8.0. The hospital also is intended to be completely self-sustaining for up to 72 hours in the event of a major earthquake or other disaster.

“This new facility provides an opportunity for the LAC+USC Medical Center to have a new shining image for the entire County of Los Angeles,” said Christi N. Heck, director of the USC Comprehensive Epilepsy Program. “It means we can assure patients of all backgrounds complete, efficient and state-of-the-art care.”

– Sara Reeve


Photo by Jon Nalick


Filling a Void in Veterans Services

USC’s new program in military social work to help armed forces personnel, military veterans and their families.

The wounds of war are not limited to the battlefield.

Soldiers and their families also struggle with stress associated with extended separations, increased workloads and recurring deployments in combat zones – all of which can contribute to post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression, which in turn can lead to substance abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse and neglect.

Add to this the shortage of social workers and other mental health professionals trained in the nuances of military life, and you create a critical and immediate need, according to Marilyn Flynn, dean of the USC School of Social Work.

In response, Flynn and her faculty have created a specialization in military social work and veterans services to prepare social workers and other trained mental health professionals to help the nation’s armed forces personnel, military veterans and their families manage the pressures of military life and postwar adjustments.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) secured $3.3 million in funding for the USC program, which is the first military social work program in the country at a major research university.

“By training social workers who are uniquely attuned to military life and the needs of returning veterans, USC’s military social work program will fill a void in the care we provide armed forces personnel,” Roybal-Allard said.

“Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have bravely served our country, and now it is our responsibility to step up and serve them.”

The military social work program, which will hold its first classes next fall, will be housed in the new USC San Marcos Academic Center in north San Diego County, down the road from Camp Pendleton, where 60,000 military and civilian personnel work every day.

It will be directed by clinical associate professor Jose Coll, a Marine Corps veteran who went to school with the aid of the GI Bill and authored the recent book A Civilian Counselor’s Primer for Counseling Veterans.

Beyond the foundation course requirements of the MSW degree, students will take a series of highly specialized classes emphasizing the military as a workplace culture, the management of trauma and post-traumatic stress, clinical practice with the military family, and preventative care and health management in military settings.

Students will round out their training with electives on disabilities and family caregiving; domestic violence; loss, grief and bereavement; spirituality; and substance abuse and other addictive disorders.

“We began the military social work program as a response to the rapidly growing demand for trained social workers who can address the mental health needs of returning war fighters,” said Paul Maiden, vice dean of the USC School of Social Work. “Our intent is to help facilitate healthy reintegration into their families, workplace and communities.”

– Cynthia Monticue


Jose Coll and U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Jeff Yarvis listen to Paul Maiden.

Photo by Brian Goodman



›› CRISIS KIDS The situation after Hurricane Katrina, with thousands of children being separated from their parents, shows the need for overarching strategies for dealing with family reunification in emergencies, says Jeffrey Upperman, director of pediatric trauma at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and a faculty member of the Keck School of Medicine of USC. He spoke at a California Hospital Association conference on disaster planning in Sacramento. “We also need to think about our own health care workers,” Upperman says. “Do they have contingency plans for child care?”

›› OIL OUTLOOK In spite of the recent sharp decline in oil demand and prices due to the global economic slowdown, the long-term trends clearly point to increased stress on world supplies of oil and fuel feedstocks. This from the “World Energy Outlook 2008” report presented at the Center for Strategic and International Studies by the International Energy Agency. Donald Paul, senior adviser at the bipartisan, nonprofit center, who is also senior adviser on energy and technology to USC executive vice president and provost C. L. Max Nikias, attended the briefing.

›› IMMIGRATION OOZE Media coverage of immigration, which tends to be episodic, dramatic and focused on illegality, actually has made it more difficult to produce immigration policy, according to the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and the Brookings Institution. The Lear Center’s Marty Kaplan was a principal investigator on the study, along with E. J. Dionne of Brookings. Annenberg’s Roberto Suro, speaking at a symposium in Washington, D.C., called the immigration story “an oozer – something that happens slowly over time,” which makes it difficult for journalists to describe.

›› EDUCATION WOES Dominic Brewer of the USC Rossier School of Education made a presentation at the 25th anniversary conference of the Policy Analysis Center for Education in Sacramento last fall. Brewer, who also is a codirector of the center, which is jointly based at USC, Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, said that California’s educational governance is “overly hierarchical and state-driven, with limited accountability throughout.”

For more Capital Connections, visit




Doing the Math

With a shortage of math teachers, a program offers grads incentives to teach, including a five-year stipend.

Math for America has come to Los Angeles.

Originating as a pilot for New York City schools, Math for America is the vision of mathematician, businessman and philanthropist James H. Simons. It takes aim at a critical problem facing the country’s future: the lack of highly qualified math teachers in classrooms, which is a serious detriment to the next generation’s ability to keep the U.S. economy healthy and globally competitive.

The pool of highly qualified math- teaching talent has been shrinking, and there are incentives for math-savvy instructors to pursue fields other than teaching. While the starting salary in the Los Angeles Unified School District for a credentialed teacher with a master’s degree is about $46,600, the starting salary in other mathematics-related fields for recent master’s degree recipients averages between $60,000 and $70,000. You do the math.

Math for America Los Angeles is a partnership among the USC Rossier School of Education, Harvey Mudd College and Claremont Graduate University, funded by the Rose Hills Foundation, USC and the Simons Foundation, and launched this year with the goal of attracting top math majors to greater Los Angeles area classrooms – and keeping them there. The effort is co-chaired by USC Provost C. L. Max Nikias and Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College.

The program offers its fellows an annual stipend of $20,000 for five years, in addition to paid tuition and their teaching salaries. During the first year, students pursue a master’s degree and teaching credential from USC or Claremont Graduate University.

During the subsequent four years, fellows teach in the Los Angeles area, with professional development opportunities provided through Harvey Mudd College. Each fellow is assigned a master teacher, who mentors him or her during the process and provides the support many teachers never receive during their challenging first years.

One of the program’s 11 inaugural fellows, Mariam Youssef, says that paid tuition to the USC Rossier School was more of a selling point than the stipend. “I think I would’ve still taught and been OK with the [teacher] salary being less, but the issue for me was paying for grad school,” she says.

Stephanie Erickson, another fellow, sums up her reaction to the program. “I got a phone call that felt a little like Christmas,” she says. “I was going to put myself $80,000 in debt to do this, and they were going to pay me to do it.”

To learn more about Math for America, go to

– Andrea Bennett


Illustration by Tim Bower

[VISUAL LITERACY] The Digital Divide

Once students have access to the Internet and other digital technologies, they need to develop skills to use those technologies effectively, USC’s Susan Metros told an international seminar in e-learning recently. “Today’s students face an increasing volume of written, auditory and visually depicted information,” said Metros, who is associate vice provost for technology-enhanced learning and deputy CIO at the university. “As a result, they require new literacies to prepare for academic success, professional advancement and, ultimately, global digital citizenship.” Metros spoke at “Fighting the Digital Divide through Education,” the Open University of Catalonia’s UNESCO Chair in E-Learning Fifth International Seminar, which took place in Barcelona, Spain, in November. Drawing participants from across Europe, the seminar focused on how leaders in the field of global education are fighting to solve the problem of inequitable access to digital technologies. Metros said: “Institutions of higher education must support the basic tenets of an education by teaching students what it means to be a literate human being in today’s visually saturated society.”

– Mary Bruce

To read a longer version of this story, go to


Photo by John Livzey

Global Horizons

Timeless Testimonies

Efforts to save one of the world’s largest video archives begin at the USC Shoah Foundation Institute.

The preservation of one of the largest digital video archives in the world got under way this fall at the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, where staff began converting more than 100,000 hours of videotaped Holocaust testimonials to a new digital format.

The Shoah Foundation, originally established by filmmaker and USC trustee Steven Spielberg, moved to USC College in 2006. Spielberg was motivated to a great extent by a desire to guarantee the survival of the project he started.

“Preservation of these priceless interviews is the Shoah Foundation’s highest priority,” he said at the time.

“These are the master copies,” says Sam Gustman, chief technology officer for the institute. “Losing the tapes means losing the testimonies of nearly 52,000 individuals who witnessed the Holocaust. Something must be done to preserve them, and USC is taking action.”

Over the next five years, 235,000 videotapes stored in a mountain in the eastern United States will make a cross-country journey by truck to USC, 15,000 at a time. The tapes will be transported because they are deteriorating – as does all videotape – and ultimately will become unusable.

The USC Office of the Provost has pledged $8 million to fund a project that will store the testimonies in an electronic format called Motion JPEG 2000.

The format is starting to be used by large archives to store their moving image content. The Library of Congress has standardized on this format at the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation. The USC Shoah Foundation Institute will be one of the largest early adopters of this technology. To help with this effort, Sun Microsystems has donated more than $2 million in storage hardware and servers.

The project also will create separate digital files for playback on all types of commercial video players, enabling easy access to the archive by future students and researchers.

Currently, full online access to the archive is available on site at USC and 16 other institutions around the world, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. As part of its future goals, the institute plans to make 1,000 interviews available on its Web site.

The institute views the project as an interim step toward the final goal of storing the massive files on hard drives at multiple research institutions.

“By the time the content is ready to be copied and stored at other sites, hard-disk based arrays will be much more affordable,” Gustman says.

“The preservation of the testimonies underpins all other activities of the institute, which is partly why this project is so significant,” says Kim Simon, institute interim executive director and director of programs. “But it is also significant because the new digital files will make it easier to provide electronic access to the testimonies, which will make them more accessible to people around the world.”

For more information, visit

– Carl Marziali and Talia Cohen


USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s Sam Gustman

Photo by Mark Berndt



›› RIM SHOT The USC Rossier School of Education has established an innovative center for faculty and students to see urban education in action around the Pacific Rim. Led by professors Michael Diamond and Mark Robison, the Asia Pacific Rim International Study Experience serves as an umbrella for all international study and USC Rossier partnerships in the Pacific Rim. The center is providing Ed.D. students with two trips to Beijing and Shanghai this year. A partnership with a Shanghai college resulted in leadership training for principals last fall and plans for training English teachers in Chinese high schools.

›› FOX NEWS Former Mexico president Vicente Fox met with 11 USC deans and faculty members in August to discuss possible cross-border collaboration with his newly formed culture and education center in the state of Guanajuato. The center has developed ties with universities in Mexico and wants to expand its connections with international universities and groups such as the Rand Corp. The meeting was hosted by James Ellis, dean of the USC Marshall School of Business.

›› LESS TALK Professors Michal Sela-Amit and Rafael Angulo of the USC School of Social Work accompanied 21 graduate students on a summer research trip to Tel Aviv where they used community-based theatre and art therapy to help individuals and groups work through problems. “They looked at other ways to help without sitting in a room and without talking so much,” Sela-Amit says. The group also traveled to northern Israel, where the researchers used playback theatre methods to help children work through war traumas.

›› GLOBAL SUMMIT Last fall, Gerald C. Davison, dean of the USC Davis School of Gerontology, Elizabeth Daley, dean of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Jennifer Wolch, professor of geography and urban planning in USC College, and Detlof von Winterfeldt, director of USC’s Homeland Security Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, participated in the Global Agenda Summit in Dubai, hosted by the World Economic Forum. Based in Geneva, the organization engages world leaders on pressing global issues.

For more information on USC’s global reach, visit



Bush League

Jane Goodall’s famous research facility for chimpanzees in Tanzania opens to USC research students.

Rob O’Malley sat hunched in the middle of an African jungle made famous by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall.

As he furtively watched the object of his research – a group of chimpanzees – O’Malley heard a cough and discovered that he, too, was being observed – by another chimp.

“It was exciting and humbling,” O’Malley says. “They are allowing us to participate in their world. When I am there sitting with the chimps, I find it incredible that this is my job.”

O’Malley is the first graduate student to take advantage of the university’s evolving relationship with Goodall. Nearly every year, a USC graduate student will be heading to Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania to study the 150 chimpanzees that live in the wild, where Goodall performed her groundbreaking research.

Since 1991, USC has been home to the Jane Goodall Research Center. Each year, Goodall, a distinguished adjunct professor of anthropology and occupational science, gives standing-room-only campus lectures.

But as negotiations were under way to continue the mutually beneficial alliance, USC College executive vice dean Michael Quick asked Craig Stanford, co-director of the Goodall Research Center, to think big.

When Stanford, who chairs the anthropology department, came to USC in 1991, he helped close the deal already underway to bring Goodall into the Trojan Family.

His relationship with Goodall began in 1988 while he was a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. He was doing research in Bangladesh and sent her a letter asking to study at her famous reserve.

It was, Stanford felt, like “a letter in a bottle.” Yet it caught Goodall’s attention, and soon he had become the first researcher in nearly 15 years to study at Gombe, which had suffered through political instability and a lack of funding. He observed the hunting habits of chimps, then believed to be mainly vegetarian. Stanford proved otherwise.

So when Quick asked last year, “What would you love to have, what would you want?” Stanford knew the answer. He asked for the biggest perk he could think of – the chance for USC students to study at Gombe.

“It’s a life-changing experience,” he says. “You can get so close that you think you are looking into the eyes of another person. And you are there trying to get inside the head of a wild animal.”

Rob O’Malley, already a veteran of the Costa Rican rain forests, says he chose USC in part because of its relationship with Goodall.

He spent three months in Gombe hoping to learn more about the eating habits of wild chimpanzees. He watched the chimps, collected insect samples, performed nutritional analyses and filmed. In the end, he also became dehydrated and got malaria.

But he is heading back, this time for five months. He says he can’t wait.

– Eddie North-Hager


Illustration by Tim Bower

[EDGE ISSUE] On the Fence

Cerca de la Cerca – Along the Border Fence, an exhibition by photographer María Teresa Fernández on display at the USC Annenberg Gallery through May, documents life and death along the fence between the United States and Mexico. Fernández immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1991, the same year construction of the border fence began. She has documented life and death along its edges since 2001. The exhibition demonstrates how the fence has evolved and changed physically through the interaction of man and nature. It also tells personal stories of families reunited, if temporarily, at Friendship Park, the only place along the fence where people can touch loved ones on the other side. Like the fence itself, the exhibition of approximately 80 photographs is evolving and changing over the course of its run. Fernández continues to document developments along the fence, which she visits each week, adding new images as they are shot.

– Susan Wampler

For information about the exhibition, presented with the Armory Center for the Arts, call (213) 821-3015.


“Manos de Inmigrantes” Photo Courtesy of María Teresa Fernández

Lab Work

Four Strikes at Diabetes

A new study probes the physiological causes of diabetes in overweight Hispanic youngsters.

A one-time checkup might not be enough to tell if a child is at risk for developing diabetes. That’s the disturbing finding of a recent study by USC pediatric obesity expert Michael Goran.

His research team followed a cohort of 128 overweight Hispanic children in East Los Angeles over four years. The children were tested annually for glucose tolerance, body mass index, total body fat and lean mass, and other risk factors for type 2 diabetes. An alarming 13 percent of the children had what the investigators termed “persistent pre-diabetes.”

With a population of more than 35 million, Hispanics are the largest and fastest-growing minority in the United States. Despite the fact that they are at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes, few previous studies have looked at physiological causes of the disease within this population.

Most prior studies examining pre-diabetes in overweight and obese children had looked at a one-time assessment of metabolic risk factors for type 2 diabetes, but fluctuations over time led to poor reliability for these tests. In the new study, Goran and his colleagues examined longitudinal data to look at a progression of risk factors. Children were identified as having persistent pre-diabetes if they had three to four positive tests over four annual visits.

The children who had persistent pre-diabetes showed signs of compromised beta-cell function, meaning that their bodies were unable to fully compensate to maintain blood glucose at an appropriate level. They also had increasing accumulation of visceral fat or deposition of fat around the organs. Both of these outcomes point toward progression in risk for type 2 diabetes.

“What this study shows is that doctors should be doing regular monitoring of these children over time because a one-time checkup might not be enough to tell if they are at risk for developing diabetes,” says Goran, who directs the USC Childhood Obesity Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Visceral fat, which pads the spaces between abdominal organs, has been linked to metabolic disturbances and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Increased obesity has been identified as a major determinant of insulin resistance. Lower beta-cell function is a key component in the development of type 2 diabetes, as the cells are unable to produce enough insulin to adequately compensate for the insulin resistance.

“To better treat at-risk children, we need better ways to monitor beta-cell function and visceral fat buildup,” Goran says. “Those are tough to measure but are probably the main factors determining who will get type 2 diabetes.” Future studies, he says, will examine different interventions, including improving beta-cell function and reducing visceral fat.

Goran is a professor of preventive medicine, physiology and biophysics, and pediatrics. His current research – supported by the National Institutes of Health and the General Clinical Research Center, National Center for Research Resources – was published in the journal Diabetes.

The findings are available online at

– Meghan Lewit


Illustration by Michael Klein


›› UNLIKELY GAMERS Time to retire the stereotype of the overweight teenaged male who dominates role-playing games. A study of 7,000 players of the game EverQuest II reveals their average age to be 31. And although slightly overweight, they still are 10 percent leaner than the average American and exercise regularly, says USC communications scholar Dmitri Williams, the lead author. The most shocking news: “The hardcore players are the women,” who make up 20 percent of players, according to Williams. “They play more hours, and they’re less likely to quit.”

›› VETERANS’ DAY The USC School of Dentistry Mobile Clinic recently trekked up the coast to be part of the East Bay Stand Down, a two-day service event for 500 homeless veterans in northern California. Faculty dentist Thomas Levy supervised four residents as they performed dozens of root canals, composite buildups, surgeries and extractions. “It was an honor to treat them,” said endodontic student Hermonpal Bhullar, “and it reinforces the reason I chose to become a dentist – to help others.”

›› BAY WATCH Monitoring coastal waters just got easier. USC marine biologist Burt Jones and students in his lab have assembled a suite of sensors – six radar installations to monitor water currents, two underwater “gliders” to carry thermometers and other gauges, and two buoys anchored offshore that analyze Southland water quality. “We’re developing an ongoing ‘live’ view of the ocean where these sensors are always on,” says Jones. They represent major savings in fuel and ship time for researchers, as the gliders can operate for weeks on a handful of batteries. Another plus, says Jones, is “they don’t get seasick.”

›› THE HIP HYPNO-DENTIST For people who fear the dental chair, USC clinical dentist Peter Stone has an alternative. Stone teaches a hypnosis course for dental students and two-day hypnosis seminars for practicing dentists. USC student filmmaker Wendy Lee captured Stone in action in her short documentary Say Aah, about conquering her own dental phobia. “In the average patient,” says Stone, “we can teach them to relax and control their fears 90 percent of the time.”

For the latest USC faculty research updates, visit



Nature’s Anti-HIV Drug

With discovery of the atomic structure of an AIDS-killing enzyme, USC researchers clear the path for new drugs.

Meet the ultimate AIDS killer – the body’s own enzyme APOBEC-3G. Present in every human cell, it is capable of stopping HIV at the first step of replication: when the retrovirus transcribes its RNA into viral DNA.

“APOBEC-3G has a very potent activity to inhibit the stage of transcription from RNA to DNA,” says USC molecular and computational biologist Xiaojiang Chen. Led by Chen, a team of scientists recently unraveled the long-sought atomic structure of this key enzyme. The findings, published in the journal Nature, show exactly how and where the enzyme binds to the viral DNA, mutating and destroying it.

“We [now] understand how this enzyme can interact with DNA,” Chen says. “This understanding provides a platform for designing anti-HIV drugs.”

If APOBEC-3G works so well, why do people get AIDS?

Because the HIV virus has evolved to encode the protein Vif, known as a “virulence factor,” that blocks APOBEC-3G.

With APOBEC-3G out of the way, the RNA of the HIV virus can be successfully transcribed to viral DNA, an essential step for infection and for producing many more HIV viruses.

Research by Chen’s group offers important clues on where Vif binds to APOBEC-3G. The knowledge could be used to design drugs that would prevent Vif from binding and allow APOBEC-3G to do its job.

An effective drug would bind to the same places in APOBEC-3G that Vif uses to latch on and interfere with the anti-HIV enzyme. The drug would be designed not to inhibit the enzyme’s function, serving only to close the door on Vif.

That would unlock humans’ innate ability to fight HIV. “We were born with it, and it’s there waiting,” Chen says.

In addition to fighting HIV, the enzyme can inhibit the Hepatitis B virus.

Mapping the structure of APOBEC-3G at the atomic level is a goal that “has been sought after worldwide because of its significance,” Chen says. Other members of the APOBEC family serve important roles in antibody maturation, fat metabolism and heart development.

USC molecular biologist Myron Goodman and graduate students and postdoctoral researchers Lauren Holden, Courtney Prochnow, Y. Paul Chang, Ronda Bransteitter, Linda Chelico and Udayaditya Sen from USC College contributed to this research, along with top Scripps Research Institute scientist Raymond Stevens.

– Carl Marziali


USC College molecular biologist Xiaojiang Chen in his lab.

Photo by Philip Channing



Flat-Screen Pain Relief

Can the power of virtual reality ease young patients’ pain? Video distractions help the medicine go down.

Why is it, wondered Jeffrey Gold, that “when your kids are playing video games, the kitchen could blow up and they wouldn’t notice?”

Unlike other parents asking idle questions without hope of getting an answer, Gold – a pediatric psychologist at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles – actually set out to investigate the analgesic properties of virtual reality (VR).

In a 2006 study of children undergoing painful pediatric venipuncture procedures, he divided his patients into two groups: those who played a virtual reality game, Street Luge, and those who received a topical anesthetic.

The results were remarkable. Those not playing the game reported a fourfold increase in pain intensity from the procedure, while those immersed in the virtual reality environment reported no change in pain intensity.

Children in the virtual reality group were calm, less anxious and more cooperative during the intervention, indicating a reduction in overall pain and distress.

Clearly, virtual reality environments provide a distraction for patients, which may help their capacity for pain. But virtual reality also seems to be doing something more.

“The initial assumption of many people is that VR works because we all have a limited capacity for attention, and if you can distract someone with VR, then it reduces their capacity for pain,” says Gold. “But I am trying to better understand the function of the brain and how VR may change the brain’s response to pain.

“We’re looking at fMRIs and other measures to see if VR actually creates analgesia, rather than just providing a distraction from the pain.”

His recent work suggests that a full 360-degree virtual reality environment may inhibit the brain’s ability to perceive and process pain by acting through the anterior cingulated cortex.

The research points to many benefits for patients, including a potential reduction in the need for sedatives, opioids and other pharmaceutical treatments. Also, patients who are calmer and more relaxed make medical tests and treatments easier to complete.

What does the future hold for virtual reality? As the technology associated with the treatments becomes more affordable, use of virtual reality is beginning to spread in hospitals across the country. Gold is eager to push the technology even further, seeking to specialize his treatments for specific patient groups.

“I’d love to be able to manipulate the environments to tweak for age or gender,” he says. “For example, if you have a 12-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy undergoing painful treatments, they probably have different needs and desires for a VR experience.”

One thing holding progress back is a lack of virtual reality environments, which Gold says are hard to come by.

Gold, who is a member of the interdisciplinary Comfort, Pain Management and Palliative Care Program in the hospital’s department of anesthesiology critical care medicine, is convinced that the future of virtual reality is wide open, with the potential for application in patients suffering from chronic pain and anxiety.

“VR is an area of research that is moving forward, and there is so much possibility and opportunity for growth,” he says. “This area of study is really in its infancy.”

– Sara Reeve



[MUSSEL BEACH] Cycling Shellfish

It’s hard being a mussel: You have to worry about hungry starfish and even hungrier humans, not to mention an environment that pitches your body temperature up or down 50 degrees Fahrenheit without warning. “Mussels can spend part of the day bathed in cool Pacific seawater and the other part baked under the California sun,” says USC biologist Andrew Gracey. “It’s one of the most variable habitats on Earth.” Armed with an NSF grant, Gracey has led the first real-time molecular sampling of mussels in their natural habitat. His team of USC and Stanford researchers collected genetic material every three to four hours over three days, sampling mussel beds just south of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. The researchers also installed “robo-mussels” – chips sealed in silicon – to record body temperature. Back in the lab, the DNA was sequenced and bound to 10,000 points on a “gene chip.” To their surprise, the researchers found that mussels in their natural habitat express their genes in cyclic waves, in what appears to be a survival strategy akin to the circadian rhythms that govern sleep.

Because their environment is so unpredictable, these regular cycles were unexpected. Amazingly, as the environment grew harsher, the scientists found the oscillations in gene expression were more pronounced. The findings could have implications for climate change, helping scientists predict how mussels would adapt to a hotter world. The data also could help explain “sudden summer mortality syndrome,” a mysterious die-off that can devastate oyster farms.

– Terah U. DeJong

To read a longer article on this research, visit


People Watch

Armed and Ready to Film

Wounded Marine vets train to enter the film industry at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Cinematic Arts screenwriting instructor James Egan is bringing his extensive background in documentary filmmaking to teach injured Marines returning from Iraq and Afghanistan how to enter the film industry.

Egan, who is also CEO of Wild at Heart Films, had a personal stake in the success of these novice filmmakers. “I come from a family with a number of veterans, and I was unhappy with the way we treated our Vietnam vets,” he says. “I thought this was a chance for me to make a difference.”

Working with the Wounded Marine Careers Foundation, a San Diego-based organization dedicated to providing injured veterans with entertainment industry skills and job placement assistance, Egan last summer taught a group of 19 Southern California injured Marines. A second class begins early in January.

In last summer’s program, the soldiers, ranging in age from 18 to 30 and in rank from private to captain, took an accelerated 10-week USC School of Cinematic Arts curriculum that included classes in screenwriting, cinematography and editing. The goal, in addition to becoming proficient with digital video and the Final Cut Pro editing program, was to help find them in jobs in the entertainment industry.

“In my class they watched films, learning about perspective, structure, characters: the fundamentals of storytelling,” Egan said. “Then we’d talk about the films they wanted to make and how they could come from their personal experiences.”

During the program, each student was still an active-duty soldier, and many of them were in some kind of intensive therapy for injuries ranging from severe post-traumatic stress disorder to lost limbs.

“Sometimes we had students who were in so much pain that they couldn’t attend class,” Egan says. “But we did whatever we had to do, whether it was spending time with them in their hospital rooms, or on the phone, to keep them up to speed.”

Egan points out that it was the soldiers’ training that made the accelerated schedule viable. “What these students brought to the table is military discipline, which is vital on a film set. You’re moving quickly and you need to be able to depend on people to do their job,” he says.

Egan acknowledges that some of the soldiers initially had doubts about the program. “But when they realized that I respected every thought or feeling they had, that created a really safe environment for them to express anything they felt,” he explains.

Retired gunnery sergeant and memoirist Nick Popaditch (Once a Marine) took Egan’s class. “He probably had the toughest teaching job there,” Popaditch says. “He was dealing with 19 guys who were pulling triggers not too long before, and now he was telling them to try creative writing.

“Some of the Marines had trouble staying focused in class, but he’d just say ‘Stay in the room,’ which is a great tactic for dealing with a Marine. No one wants to be the one who’s holding others back. I think he really reached through to all the soldiers. There were no failures and some incredible successes.”

Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker and production professor Mark Harris is a curriculum adviser for the program. He stresses the importance of creating job opportunities for the soldiers, saying they are owed better care and a viable future.

In late July, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees inducted the graduates into three entertainment industry locals. Of the nine medically retired Marines in the program, five are working on either a full-time or freelance basis. Of the 10 active-duty Marines, six received job offers in post-production upon their service retirement.

“I was amazed to watch the students learn a new language that gave them access to feelings that they previously didn’t have an outlet for,” Egan says. “Once they became lit up by their vision, there was no stopping them.”

– Mel Cowan


Photo by Philip Channing


›› CHAIRMAN The USC Board of Trustees has a new chairman, Edward P. Roski, Jr. ‘62 chairman and chief executive officer of Majestic Realty Co. He succeeds Stanley P. Gold. A USC trustee since 2000, Roski was elected vice chairman of the board in December 2007 and became chairman in June 2008. He holds a B.S. in finance and real estate from USC and served as a Marine Corps officer in Vietnam before going to work at Majestic Realty, now one of the largest privately held real estate firms in the country. In March 2006, Roski and his wife pledged $23 million to USC’s fine arts school, which was renamed the USC Gayle Garner Roski School of Fine Arts in recognition of their gift.


›› LAUREATE California’s new poet laureate is Carol Muske-Dukes, professor of English at USC College. She was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the two-year term. Muske-Dukes, author of seven books of poetry, four novels and two collections of essays, founded the College’s Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing program and served as the program’s first director. Her most recent book of poetry, Sparrow, was a National Book Award finalist, and her latest novel is the 2007 best seller, Channeling Mark Twain.



›› ACTING DEAN The new acting dean of the USC School of Dentistry is Sigmund H. Abelson. He had been the school’s associate dean of clinical affairs and an associate professor of clinical dentistry under Dean Harold C. Slavkin, who previously announced his plan to step down at the end of 2008. After a sabbatical, Slavkin will return in 2010 as a member of the faculty. Abelson, who manages the USC Oral Health Center, the Center for Oral Microbiological Testing Services and the Redmond Radiological Imaging Center, joined USC in 2002 after serving as an associate director of the California Dental Association. He is a graduate of the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry.

For a complete listing of USC trustees, senior officers and deans, visit




Sole Sister

Take your shoes for a spin in a storage unit, marketed by a USC Marshall grad, that’s like a Rolodex for footwear.

Shoe storage is a problem that spans the globe. Fittingly, the solution is also a circle that goes round and round: the Shoe Wheel, a colorful carousel for footwear. A USC Marshall School of Business grad co-founded the small company that manufactures it, and it has become a phenomenal worldwide success, with distribution on every continent.

After graduation, Los Angeles native Lori Quon MBA ’00, experienced shoe storage problems firsthand while living in a tiny apartment in Hong Kong. Her husband, manufacturing engineer and inventor Danilo Torro, who hails from Colombia, eyed the couple’s shoes piled in the corner and vowed to come up with a solution.

The result was the Shoe Wheel, a colorful mobile unit with expandable pockets that can hold up to 30 pairs of shoes. It’s attractive enough – it could be considered shoe sculpture – that it doesn’t need to be hidden in a closet.

Torro, whose background is in garment manufacturing, devised the production methods. The couple formed a company, Rakku, Inc., and opened a factory in China, taking the product to market in 2006. As her first step in marketing, Quon sent information to the reporter who writes the “Personal Shopper” column at The New York Times. The reporter warmed to the idea, and when the article ran, Quon and Torro sold their entire inventory (the contents of a storage space in Gardena, Calif.) in a week. They have now sold more than 40,000 units worldwide, and have garnered extraordinary press coverage in countries as diverse as Russia, Turkey, South Africa and Brazil.

Their company since has added a children’s version, the Rakkiddo, and the Shoe Pod, a half wheel that can hold super-sized men’s shoes.

USC gave Quon a useful boost when the Shoe Wheel was in the planning stages. She brought a prototype to a spring networking event on campus organized by USC Marshall professors Tom O’Malia and Bill Crookston and pitched the concept on stage for the first time. The enthusiastic reaction spurred her to launch by year’s end.

– Allison Engel


Photo by Philip Channing

[GOLD FINCH] Aging Center Honors Founder

University Professor Caleb “Tuck” Finch has been described as “this century’s Charles Darwin.” With his white beard, Finch resembles the best-known pictures of the English naturalist, but the similarity goes farther. Like Darwin’s theories of evolution, Finch’s discoveries have changed the way that scientists look at animal and human aging. The founding principal investigator of the USC Alzheimer Disease Research Center and its director for 20 years, Finch was honored at a September symposium celebrating the center’s 25th anniversary. The range of topics at the symposium illustrated the breadth of Finch’s influence – from basic mechanisms of development, longevity, aging and neurodegeneration to genetics, epidemiology, biodemography, prevention, treatment and even the role of chance in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Finch earned his undergraduate degree in biophysics from Yale University and his Ph.D. in cell biology from Rockefeller University. “His adviser wondered why he was getting into aging, since all it had to do with was vascular disease and cancer,” the current director of the center, Helena Chui, says. “But Tuck saw untouched, undiscovered land.”

– Ina Fried

Information about the Alzheimer Disease Research Center and clinical trials can be found at


Arts & Culture

Pulling Strings

Classical virtuosos spend a week with student critics, neuroscientists, athletes and – oh, yes – musicians.

What does the Tokyo String Quartet have in common with the Trojan football squad? International name-recognition and a reputation for excellence – yes. But how about uncanny memorization skills and grueling workouts?

This and other intriguing questions captivated student researchers, artists, athletes and journalists in a weeklong USC residency by the acclaimed Tokyo String Quartet.

Organized by faculty violinist and strings chair Midori Goto in November, the idea was to get USC students interacting with world-class artists in unusual ways – beyond the obligatory concert and master class (although those, too, were on the docket).

It doesn’t get much more unusual than this: interdisciplinary workshops matching the Tokyos – their priceless Stradivari instruments in hand – with a group of USC linebackers, a room full of aspiring arts critics and a team of top-notch neuroscientists. The goal: to probe the mysteries of creativity through some unlikely juxtapositions.

The residency began with Sunday master classes matching selected USC Thornton School of Music chamber ensembles with Tokyo Quartet violinists Martin Beaver and Kikuei Ikeda, violist Kazuhide Isomura and cellist Clive Greensmith. Monday afternoon, the Tokyos found themselves in Heritage Hall interacting with Chris Carlisle, head coach for strength and conditioning in USC’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Focusing on the creative spark in competitive sports, Carlisle walked his audience through videos of the Trojan squad executing a well-rehearsed play in practice, then – in a sudden burst of inspiration – breaking the pattern during a live game to stunning effect. Carlisle and Tokyo Quartet members compared warm-ups and drills – revealing uncanny resemblances between the grueling workouts of premier athletes and the treacherous scales and études musicians repeat to build speed and accuracy.

On Wednesday, Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Tim Page, a USC visiting professor, joined the Tokyos in a workshop pairing artists and journalists. As an experiment, the Tokyos agreed to play the same piece in three distinctly different ways – setting the stage for some practical music criticism.

Later that day, USC neuroscientists Antonio and Hanna Damasio turned the spotlight on the neurological aspects of music-making. “With music,” says Antonio, who directs USC College’s Brain and Creativity Institute, “we have the possibility to trace something quite marvelous – understanding one of the ways in which humans are unique.” The researchers administered memory tests to the members of the Tokyo Quartet. Each was asked to explain his strategy for memorizing a new piece of music.

Thursday brought the Tokyos together with USC student musicians one last time in a culminating concert and seminar. The blended ensembles had rehearsed repeatedly during the week, so refined artistry was expected, but no one could have predicted the five-minute standing ovation that closed out this most unusual artistic residency.

– Diane Krieger


Musical athletes: the Tokyo String Quartet in Paris

Photo by Christian Ducasse


[A MAJOR IS BORN] Pop-Star Prep

In January, scores of promising young rockers, singer/songwriters and urban/Latin hipsters gathered to audition for one of 20 slots in the inaugural class of USC’s new popular music performance major. USC Thornton, named one of the top five music schools in the country by Rolling Stone, is introducing the new major this fall, filling a need that “colleges and universities have been talking about … for decades,” says dean Robert Cutietta. “People are not listening to music in genre-specific ways anymore,” explains Chris Sampson, director of the new program. “We need to train musicians differently.”

Students will receive rigorous training on an instrument or voice, along with coursework in copyright and entertainment law, recording and production techniques, even a mandatory drumset class.

“I wish this program was around when I attended school,” says rock legend Steve Miller, a consultant in its development. “I would have signed up.” Other top professionals involved include composer/songwriter Randy Newman, Motown sound pioneer Lamont Dozier, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and award-winning producer Glen Ballard.

– Suzanne Wu

For information on the new music major, go to