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N Equals One is a podcast about science and discovery, produced and hosted by UC San Diego Health's Communications team. In each episode, we bring you the story of one project, one discovery or one scientist.

You can also find N Equals One on iTunesSoundCloud, or use our RSS feed to add us to your favorite podcast app.

Jasmine Faniel

All the latest on COVID-19 and fertility, pregnancy and breastfeeding

Despite strong recommendations from the CDC, pregnant people in the U.S. continue to show low vaccination rates against COVID-19. It's been a tough choice for many parents or soon-to-be parents, so in this episode, we dig into the details. UC San Diego Health experts Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, MD, Christina Chambers, PhD, MPH, and Lars Bode, PhD, all weigh in on the latest research and recommendations. We also speak with San Diego mom Jasmine Faniel about her concerns and what it was like to face this choice during her pregnancy. Learn more about the safety of exposures in pregnancy and breastfeeding at

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Michael Taffe

Funding fairness: Racial disparities in research grant funding

Academic scientists rely on grants to fund their research, and the largest funder of biomedical research is the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Unfortunately, many of the racial inequities in academic science have trickled their way into this grant funding process. As it stands, applications from African-American or Black scientists are less likely to be funded by the NIH than applications submitted by white scientists. In this episode, Michael Taffe, PhD, a professor at UC San Diego, explains the complex root causes of this disparity and what scientists and the NIH can do to address it.

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David Gonzalez

From landscaping to the lab: David Gonzalez’s journey through academia

David Gonzalez, PhD, is an associate professor at UC San Diego, where his lab studies how bacteria affect our health. He’s also a first-generation Mexican-American from San Diego County. Gonzalez, like his siblings, dropped out of high school, got a job and started a family. But when he found himself mowing lawns across the street of the local community college, something inside him shifted. In this episode, Gonzalez shares his unique journey through academia, and honors the mentors who inspired him along the way.

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Environmental justice: Where COVID-19 meets climate change

Climate change and COVID-19 are arguably the two greatest crisis of our time. The other thing they have in common is the fact that they disproportionately affect the same people — primarily underserved populations and communities of color. In this episode, we speak with Tarik Benmarhnia, PhD, about his work on environmental justice, and how it plays a role in the health of a community, whether that’s due to an infectious disease, pollutants, heatwaves or wildfires. If we can improve the structural fundamental causes of these issues and these inequalities, he says, we’ll be able to build more resilient communities.

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lab tech

A government in COVID-19 denial

Despite political risk to researchers and participants, a new study provides the first glimpse into the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on health care workers in Nicaragua, a country where the government refuses to acknowledge that there is a pandemic, or do anything about it. Researcher James McKerrow, MD, PhD, discusses his work with colleague Jorge Huete-Pérez, PhD. Richard Feinberg, PhD, provides his insights as an expert on U.S.-Latin American relations.

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Mask wearing woman

Taking a Stand for Your Health

More than 5 million people around the world die from causes associated with a lack of physical activity. The news comes as many people have transitioned to working from home, are dealing with local gyms closing and may be sheltering-in-place as we face the COVID-19 pandemic. Two research teams from UC San Diego School of Medicine sought to understand sedentary lifestyles, with one finding that even light physical activity, including just standing, can benefit health, and the other that Americans are still sitting too much.

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COVID-19 Vaccines: Our shot at immunity from SARS-CoV-2

Around the world, at least 53 COVID-19 vaccines are currently undergoing clinical trials. Four of the largest and most promising have reached the final Phase III stage. UC San Diego is a testing site for three of the big four: Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson. We speak with Susan Little, MD, principal investigator for two COVID-19 clinical trials in San Diego that are focused on finding a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2. Little discusses the science behind vaccines, how they will work to address the current pandemic, and when a potential COVID-19 vaccine will be ready.

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Michele Ritter

How to prevent a 'twindemic' (hint: get your flu shot!)

We don’t yet have a vaccine to prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, but we do have a vaccine for another respiratory virus: influenza. In this episode, infectious disease physician Michele Ritter, MD, talks about the difference between flu and COVID, whether it’s possible to get both and why it’s more important than ever to get your flu vaccine this year.

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What mini-lungs in a dish might tell us about COVID-19

In this episode we speak with Aaron Carlin, MD, PhD, and Sandra Leibel, MD, assistant professors and physician-scientists at UC San Diego School of Medicine. Carlin studies viruses such as Zika virus and Leibel has developed “mini lungs” — stem cell-based organoids that grow in a petri dish in the lab, where she can study diseases that affect newborn lungs. That’s what they were doing six months ago, anyway. Then SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that has caused the COVID 19 pandemic, entered our lives. Carlin and Leibel quickly teamed up to explore what happens to the lungs when they are infected with SARS-CoV-2, and how we might be able to mitigate that damage.

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Candids Morello

The pharmacist will see you now

In this episode, Candis Morello, PharmD, pharmacist and educator at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at UC San Diego, shares her career path — inspired by her grandmother's peach tree — and explains how pharmacists have become an integral part of a patient's health care team. Her diabetes tune-up clinic provides an example of how pharmacists can improve patient outcomes and help lower health care costs.

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Beata Mierzwa

Science meets art — on a dress

By day, postdoctoral researcher Beata Mierzwa, PhD, studies cellular division. By night, she makes clothing — dresses, pants, shoes, backpacks — covered in colorful dividing cells. In this episode, she talks about her love of both science and art, how her unique designs help get people excited about science, and her new role as an IF/THEN Ambassador for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Learn more about Mierzwa and her projects at and

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Lisa Madlensky

Medical DNA test vs. consumer genetic analysis

Lisa Madlensky, PhD, director of the Family Cancer Genetics Program at Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health, explains the difference between medical grade DNA tests and consumer genetic analysis like 23andMe. She talks about the nuggets that can be derived from consumer products and what might not apply. She cautions us not to use consumer products to make medical decisions. Instead, if you're concerned about your health risk, talk to a genetic counselor.

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Alec Calac

Balancing an MD, PhD and advocacy with Alec Calac

As a kid, Alec Calac knew he wanted to be a doctor, following in his father's footsteps — but it wasn't until he started college in another state and left his community behind that he discovered his second passion: advocacy. Now, as a second year MD/PhD student at UC San Diego School of Medicine, Alec spoke with us about how he fills his "spare" time advocating for more visibility and support for Native Americans in STEM and medical careers.

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woman on mountaintop

Your lungs, high altitude and athletic training

Susan Hopkins, MD, PhD, is a professor of medicine and radiology working to figure out how the lungs work — and in particular, what happens to the lungs under stress. Following a winding road that brought her from family medicine in a small mountain town in Canada to UC San Diego School of Medicine, where she researches the effects of low oxygen and exercise on lung function, Hopkins’ interests all come back to her love of figuring out how things work. She studies high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), a unique condition that occurs only at high altitudes that causes the lungs to suddenly fill with liquid, and is trying to understand why HAPE is so easily reversible while other similar conditions in the clinic can be so deadly. In this episode, she talks with our intern, Noah Lowy, about her research and shares some insights into how athletic training and lung function are intertwined.

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UC San Diego Student-Run Free Clinic

Student-Run Free Clinic: teaching compassion, caring for the underserved

Sunny Smith, MD, is co-medical director of UC San Diego School of Medicine's Student-Run Free Clinic, a popular elective that offers free care for San Diego's underserved and provides a unique hand-on experience for doctors-in-training. One of Smith’s most cherished memories of her 20+ years with the clinic is the time the students crowdsourced funding to help an uninsured man get the prosthetic leg he needed to return to work. One of the best things about the clinic, she says, is the opportunity to be part of patients’ lives for years, getting to know them and their families. The clinic is a featured part of UC San Diego’s new T. Denny Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion. Learn more about the institute at

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Lucila Ohno-Machado

Join All Of Us

For most of history, scientific and medical studies have tended to involve primarily white people, and mostly white men. We now know those findings don’t always apply to people from different genetic and environmental backgrounds. That’s why the All of Us Research Program’s goal is to accelerate medical discoveries by gathering data on health, habits, family history, genetics and environment from one million or more participants — and particularly participants from historically underrepresented communities. At UC San Diego Health, All of Us is led by Lucila Ohno-Machado, MD, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics. In this episode, she talks about the program, what she’s excited about and what’s coming next. Learn more at

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Alan Shahtaji

Sports Med Doc Heads to Women's World Cup

In this episode we talk to Alan Shahtaji, DO, family and sports medicine physician at UC San Diego Health and a team doctor for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. We caught up with Shahtaji on the morning before he left to join up with the team and travel with them for the 2019 World Cup in France. He talks about what he does, what he likes about it and what’s challenging about providing medical care abroad for an elite team. He also shares some advice for anyone interested in staying healthy and performing well in soccer, including parents with kids getting into the sport.

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Big Data concept

Classroom crowdscience competition

Trey Ideker and Samson Fong teach a course at UC San Diego School of Medicine called Biological Networks and Biomedicine. It’s designed to introduce graduate students to the concept of network biology — living systems as an interconnected whole, instead of individual cells, proteins or genes — and the bioinformatics tools used to study these systems. But instead of giving the class a standard final exam, Ideker and Fong created a competition. The students worked in teams to analyze a database of patient genetic information and identify the genes most closely associated with schizophrenia. The top teams not only came up with a list of known schizophrenia-associated genes, they ran the analysis in under five minutes and outperformed previously published approaches.

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girl on bed

All about endometriosis

"Tiny ice skaters on your uterus" is how one patient with endometriosis describes the pain she lived with for nine years before being diagnosed. In this episode, patient Monica Cain shares her personal journey with the debilitating disorder, and Sanjay Agarwal, MD, talks about all things endometriosis, including the first new drug in a decade that is becoming a game changer.

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Tamara Strauss

Next Step in Cancer Therapy: Personalized Vaccine?

Tamara Strauss, the first patient to enroll in a first-of-its-kind clinical trial at Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health to test a personalized vaccine using her unique cancer mutations to boost an anti-tumor immune response, joins Ezra Cohen, MD, associate director for translational science at Moores Cancer Center, and Stephen Schoenberger, PhD, professor of immunology at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology, to talk about hope for a new personalized cancer vaccine. Drs. Cohen and Schoenberger developed a new technology that identifies a patient’s unique targets that can be used to create a vaccine specific to each individual person. The pilot study is enrolling 10 patients with solid tumors as a first step. To learn more about this research visit

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Michelle Brubaker

Cancer survivorship part 2: Cancer doesn’t define you

In our previous episode on cancer survivorship, Michelle Brubaker shared her recent cancer journey. In this episode Laurie Knight, a licensed clinical social worker, and Cecilia Kasperick, breast cancer nurse navigator, of the Comprehensive Breast Health Center at UC San Diego Health, talk about how Michelle can move forward after treatment, without having her life defined by cancer. They offer tips for friends and family to help patients transition to survivorship and beyond. To learn more about Michelle's journey, check out her video at

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Michelle Brubaker

Cancer survivorship part 1: A survivor's tale

When a person shows no evidence of cancer, they transition into the phase known as "survivorship." While this is a joyous moment, it can also be emotional, says Michelle Brubaker. Only recently has Michelle transitioned from breast cancer patient to survivor, and there are a lot of questions and feelings she's sorting out. As Michelle shares her story, Laurie Knight, a licensed clinical social worker, and Cecilia Kasperick, breast cancer nurse navigator, of the Comprehensive Breast Health Center at UC San Diego Health, explain survivorship. To learn more about Michelle's journey, check out her video at

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Kathryn Gold

Clinical Trials 101

In this episode, we talk to Kathryn Gold, MD, a medical oncologist who specializes in the treatment of head, neck and lung cancer, about clinical trials — what they are, why someone might want to participate in one, and how they might get started.

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infant hand

Retired NICU Nurses Swap Stories

We talk to Mary Hackim and Jan Hebert about their 37-year nursing career at UC San Diego Health. They served in a variety of roles in Women & Infant Services, specializing in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Hear about their personal experiences, challenges and all the technological advancements made over the years that are now giving babies born less than a pound the chance to survive.

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Alie Astrocyte

Talking neuroscience and #scicomm with Alie Astrocyte

In this episode we talk to neuroscience graduate student Alison Caldwell, internet-famous as Alie_Astrocyte on Twitter and Neuro Transmissions on YouTube, about her research, life as a graduate student and why she thinks science communication (#scicomm) is so important.

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American Gut lab

The untold story of congenital syphilis

Congenital syphilis has been on the rise since 2001, with a sharp increase in 2014 across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although many may not think of syphilis as current public health problem, this is still a very real threat to mothers and their unborn children. Recently awarded a $150,000 grant to further study the underlying causes of this outbreak, Jennifer Wagman, PhD, an assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine, discusses some thoughts on why we might be seeing a rise in congenital syphilis and what steps can be taken to help combat this epidemic.

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UC San Diego Medical Center

Health care workers help spot human trafficking

According to the most recent data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, incidents of trafficking in the United States rose by more than 35 percent in 2016. The thought of human trafficking might conjure images of law enforcement coming to the rescue, but often times help comes from other places. The majority of victims end up in a hospital seeking treatment for conditions related to human trafficking. In this episode, we talk to UC San Diego Health employees Regina Wang, MD, Sarah Williamson, RN, and Karen Mitchell-Keels, RN, who have formed a committee to help educate health care workers about signs that may reveal that a patient is a victim of human trafficking.

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Hannah Carter

"Minority Report" for cancer

In the 2002 science fiction movie "Minority Report," Tom Cruise’s character leads a futuristic police unit that prevents crimes based on mutated humans called "precogs" who "previsualize" crimes via visions of the future. In other words, the precogs predict where and when something bad is going to happen. Far-fetched? Maybe not, at least when it comes to “previsualizing” cancer. Here we talk to computational biologist Hannah Carter, PhD, who can use data from a person’s inherited genome to help predict where their future tumor might show up, how it might behave, and how it might best be treated.

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Powered by chemo

Powered by chemo

Despite a diagnosis of stage IV pancreatic cancer and ongoing chemotherapy, Mike Levine competed in one of the most grueling of physical competitions: the Ironman World Championship. When Mike's cancer spread to his lungs he began end-of-life planning but a second opinion at Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health gave him one more chance to compete in the sport he loves. In this episode, we talk to Mike, his wife, training partner and doctor about how he does it.

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DNA concept

You’re more than what’s coded in your DNA

Your genome is like a recipe book with all the recipes that a cell in your body needs to make the proteins it needs to function. Each of your 10 trillion cells has a full copy of the full recipe book. But that’s a problem — how does each cell know which recipes to use and which to ignore? For example, only skin cells need the recipe to make pigment, and they don’t need the recipe for insulin. That’s where epigenomics comes in, providing “post-it notes” in the recipe book, so each cell only uses the recipes it needs. In this episode we talk to Dave Gorkin, associate director of the new Center for Epigenomics at UC San Diego School of Medicine, about all this. He also tells us how our epigenetics can change over time, influenced by environmental factors and in turn affecting our susceptibility to disease.

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How an old asthma drug could be a new diabetes treatment

In a recent clinical trial, some patients with type 2 diabetes showed a clinically significant reduction in blood glucose after taking an anti-asthma drug for 12 weeks. Here we talk to Alan Saltiel, PhD, who led the study, about what this drug is, why it seems to help some diabetics but not others, and how his team is working to personalize diabetes treatments.

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Microbes as Medicine

We talk to Richard Gallo, MD, PhD, a dermatologist and researcher whose team recently tested a “microbiome transplant” cream on a small group of eczema patients. People with eczema tend to have more Staphylococcus aureus bacteria on their skin than those who don’t, which can exacerbate the itchiness and inflammation. Unlike traditional antibiotics, which wipe out both harmful and beneficial bacteria indiscriminately, Gallo’s approach uses good bacteria to specifically fight off the bad.

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Century-old drug tested in boys with autism

In a small clinical trial, one intravenous dose of the century-old drug suramin produced measurable, but transient, improvements in five boys with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Here, lead researcher Robert K. Naviaux, MD, PhD, talks with Miles McInerney, a teenager with ASD who was involved in the study but did not receive suramin, and his mother, Kim Kennedy. They discuss the trial, why Miles wanted to participate, and his concerns about changing what makes him who he is.

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Patterson and Strathdee

Experimental phage therapy saves Tom's life

Tom Patterson, PhD, and his wife were vacationing in Egypt when he contracted a multidrug-resistant infection. He was transported to UC San Diego Health, where his life was saved by an experimental intravenous therapy with phages — viruses that kill bacteria. While this is only one patient, Patterson’s experience opens a fresh avenue of research aimed at finding alternatives to traditional antibiotics, amidst the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance.

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quantified surgery

Quantified Surgery: 3D models personalize procedures long before the first incision

When computer scientist Larry Smarr, PhD, needed part of his colon removed, he created a 3D model of his affected abdomen with colleague Jurgen Schulze, PhD, that his surgeon, Sonia Ramamoorthy, MD, could explore long before her first incision. Smarr’s successful procedure was a true “N Equals One” experiment but also perhaps a glimpse at the future of surgery.

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chronic pain patient

Changing how your brain senses pain

In our last episode, we talked about the pros and cons of opioids for pain management. Here we talk to Mark Wallace, MD, about an alternative method for managing chronic pain — a type of neuromodulation called spinal cord stimulation. We also hear from a patient who has a spinal cord stimulator implanted in his back to help him manage chronic hand pain.

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Tale of two crises: chronic pain and opioid abuse

Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear about the U.S.’s opioid addiction epidemic in the news. But chronic pain is an epidemic, too, and sometimes opioids are the best treatment. We talk to experts working on the front lines of both sides — palliative care pharmacist Rabia Atayee, PharmD, on the difficulties of managing chronic pain, and psychiatrist Carla Marienfeld, MD, on treating opioid addiction.

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What's the deal with e-cigarettes?

What are e-cigarettes? How are they different than traditional cigarettes? Are they any better for you? In this episode, Laura Crotty Alexander, MD, a pulmonologist and researcher at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, answers these questions and dispels a few myths. We also talk about vaping mice, recipe blogs, and tips for making the habit a little less dangerous.

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Tiffany Taylor

Brain tumors — what’s old may be new again

Until she recently defended her PhD thesis, Tiffany Taylor studied glioblastoma cells and how they grow, working in the lab of Frank Furnari, PhD, at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Ludwig Cancer Research. Here she talks about how her findings might help doctors make better use of the glioblastoma treatments they already have. She also shares her career plans and hopes for increasing diversity in the next generation of scientists.

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Eating healthy, with a side of science

Seems like every day there’s a new food study that contradicts the one before it: eggs are bad, eggs are good; gluten is poison, no red dye is poison – just eat kale! Where’s the science and what does “eating healthy” really mean? We talk to Christine Zoumas, MS, RD, senior dietitian and director of the Healthy Eating Program at Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health, about what she teaches cancer patients and cancer survivors at her nutrition and cooking classes.

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immunotherapy concept

Cancer immunotherapy part 2: On the cusp of something great

In episode 8, we heard from rock star Rikki Rockett about his experience with cancer and immunotherapy. Here, we go deeper on this leading-edge approach, which fights cancer by boosting a patient’s own immune system. Sandip Patel, MD, the Moores Cancer Center oncologist who runs Rikki’s clinical trial, shares why he’s excited about immunotherapy and the challenges to providing these therapies to more patients.

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Rikki Rockett

Cancer immunotherapy part 1: Rock star Rikki Rockett shares his experience

In this special episode, Heather talks to Rikki Rockett, drummer in the band Poison, on the day he was at Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health for a scan that would tell him whether or not his experimental immunotherapy had worked. Hear about Rikki’s journey through diagnosis, the recommendation that he have his entire tongue removed, and finally to a clinical trial.

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Zika virus

Zika virus research takes off

Scott and Heather talk to three researchers about all the new information on Zika virus that has emerged in just the past few months — proof that the virus causes microcephaly, a potential explanation for how that happens, and new drug discovery efforts in collaboration with IBM World Community Grid’s crowdsourced OpenZika project.

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What makes breast milk so special? Interview with "the milk man"

Michelle and Melanie learn the science behind “breast is best” from Lars Bode, PhD, associate professor in pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine and dedicated athlete-turned-world-research-leader in human milk composition. They talk about the benefits of breast milk and how lactating mothers could hold the key to drug development for chronic, adult diseases.

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Ada Almutairi

The NEXT BIG THING may be very, very small

Yadira and Heather discuss nanomedicine—using tiny particles to deliver diagnostics and therapeutics—and how this approach helps overcome the biggest challenge to health care today: people. They talk to Adah Almutairi, PhD, associate professor and director of the Center for Excellence in Nanomedicine in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at UC San Diego.

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gene editing

Editing Alzheimer's genes with CRISPR/Cas9

Scott and Heather learn about CRISPR/Cas9, the hot new technique for editing genes. They talk to John Steele, a postdoctoral researcher in Larry Goldstein’s lab in the UC San Diego School of Medicine, about how CRISPR/Cas9 works and how he is using it and another leading-edge technique — induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) — to study Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.

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When antibiotics stop working, what's next?

Michelle and Heather talk about a young athlete who recently lost his leg due to an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection. How does that happen? Why do antibiotics sometimes fail? What other treatment options do we have? This episode features Ross Corriden, project scientist in the UC San Diego School of Medicine who discovered in lab and mouse experiments that breast cancer drug tamoxifen helps give the immune system a boost.

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Leslie Crews

Stem cells behaving badly

Michelle and Heather discuss the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to stem cells -- everything from regenerative medicine and stem cell tourism to cancer. Features Leslie Crews, senior project scientist in Catriona Jamieson's lab in the UC San Diego School of Medicine and Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine.

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American Gut lab

What's living in your poop?

In this episode, Scott and Heather talk about the gut microbiome — the unique constellation of microbes living inside you. We also learn about a citizen science initiative called the American Gut Project, and how you can participate. Features Daniel McDonald, former American Gut project manager, and Embriette Hyde, American Gut's current project manager and postdoctoral researcher in Rob Knight's lab at UC San Diego.

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