June 2017 Articles

Anassa Kata

The Researcher

Some broken bones won’t heal.

But now a research team at the Keck School of Medicine at USC is tackling the problem, and one of the lead researchers is the product of Bryn Mawr’s biology department.

Francesca Mariani ’91, a principal 
investigator at USC’s Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research, is working with colleagues on ways to repair bone defects too severe to heal. Her partners in the project—the Regenerative Medicine Initiative—are Keck’s Orthopedic Surgery Chair Jay Lieberman and fellow stem cell researcher Gage Crump.

“Each year, about five million people in the U.S. have fractures that fail to heal successfully,” says Mariani. “By using our new bone regeneration model, we can identify the stem cells needed for successful bone healing.”

Working with a seemingly unlikely pair—zebrafish and mice—the team has found repair cells that enable these animals to heal serious injuries. Adult 
zebrafish can repair 20 percent of a missing heart, a severed spinal cord, or up 
to half a jawbone, and mice can likewise heal large-scale injuries to their ribs. 
The Crump and Mariani labs published their findings about zebrafish in the journal Development.

To continue her work with mice, Mariani recently secured a $2.37 million Research Project Grant from the National Institutes of Health. “Going forward,” she says, “we are investigating a promising biological factor that stimulates these cells to mediate repair.”

“The collaboration has really been wonderful for gaining new insights,” says Mariani. By bringing together researchers and clinicians, the initiative focuses on areas that may be of most clinical use for patients. Among those who may benefit? People with large bone defects associated with revision total hip and knee replacement and soldiers who have lost soft tissue and bone from gunshot or IED wounds.

The Accidental Entrepreneur

When Arshiya Bose ’05 started Black Baza 
Coffee, she was a doctoral student in 
environmental science at Cambridge University.

She didn’t know much about coffee—or 
running a business.

But her research focused on market incentives for conserving biodiversity and brought her to the coffee-growing districts of the southwestern Indian state of Karnataka. There, she found cause for concern.

Coffee growing is notoriously damaging to the environment: much of the world’s coffee is grown in direct sunlight rather than under the shade of a canopy of trees that provide habitat for wildlife, support soil health, and fight erosion.

In India, coffee was historically shade-grown; planters who had at first cleared forests quickly brought back natives to manage pests. But from about 1970 on, that changed and more and more farms were losing forest cover. As Bose explains, it made economic sense: “The straightforward logic is that any rational farmer wanting to optimize his coffee yields does so most cost-effectively by thinning tree cover on his farm.”

And even in those farms that maintained tree cover, growers were planting silver oak, a species that, as an exotic, was not subject to government regulations. The impact, Bose explains, can be devastating to native plants and animals.
The solution lay, Bose realized, in the marketplace: “If coffee drinkers demand that their coffee comes from farms that conserve biodiversity, perhaps more farms will be urged to cultivate in ecologically acceptable ways,” she explains.

And so Black Baza Coffee was born. “A conservation project at its core,” the company commits its growers to 100 trees per acre, with at least 22 species and no single tree dominating, and, in turn, guarantees them a buyback at a 15 to 20 percent premium over market price. A conservation agreement ties that premium to farmers’ meeting Black Baza’s biodiversity-friendly farming criteria.

To read more, visit www.blackbazacoffee.com.

The Performance Artist

“I always wanted to try my hand at burlesque,” 
said Whitney Lopez ’15, “but my fear of being more of a spectacle than spectacular kept me from doing so.”

With a little help from photographer Eva Wǒ ’14, Lopez conquered their fears and a photo shoot was born. Afropunk.com, a site focusing on African Americans participating in the punk and alt music scene, featured the collaboration on its site and called it collaboration “show-stopping.”

Says Lopez, who uses the pronoun they, “This photo shoot is important to me as a disabled, fat, hairy, gender non-conforming Black person because it allows me to walk that line of spectacularizing myself in a performance way, while also reclaiming my power over how I am perceived as a human being.”

Lopez is a Philadelphia-based visual and performance artist and independent curator, and artist whose work examines, decolonizes, and reconstructs aspects 
of their identity. Wǒ is a Philly-based photographer whose work focuses on queer and marginalized people and underground communities.