Hot topics in UW Medicine science at AAAS meeting

Protein molecule design, citizen science, human chimerism, DNA privacy, sex-trafficked youth, and Mycoplasma genitalium are among areas researchers will discuss.

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Several scientists and physicians from the University of Washington School of Medicine will be among the speakers, panelists, press briefing sources, SciMic Stage interviewees and other presenters at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, Thursday, Feb. 13 through Sunday, Feb. 16.  This year's annual AAAS meeting is taking place in Seattle. 

Among the UW Medicine speakers or organizers will be:

David Baker, professor of biochemistry and director of the UW Medicine Institute for Protein Design.  Baker will give two presentations, one on crowdsourcing of protein design through citizen science platforms like Foldit.  He will also talk about the latest achievements in accurately designing proteins, that never existed before in nature, to perform new functions, and what this means for creating new tools and nanomachines in science and in medicine. Baker is also scheduled to give an interview on the SciMic Stage.

Gail Jarvik, professor of medicine and head of the Division of Medical Genetics at the UW School of Medicine.  Jarvik will be part of a panel organized by the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health.  After a preview of Ken Burn’s documentary, “The Gene: An Intimate History,” the panel will talk about some of the historic advances in gene research and what’s in store for the future.

Stephanie Malia Fullerton, professor of bioethics and humanities at the UW School of Medicine. She will give a talk on “And the Genes Lived On: Reflections on the Immortality of Personal Genetic Information."  She will discuss the digital data collected on individuals, and the demand for access to that information from third parties weighed against the privacy and dignity of the DNA specimen donor.  Fullerton studies the ethical and social implications of genomic research and how this research is translated into clinical, scientific, public health, forensic and other uses.  Fullerton is slated to give a press briefing for the news media at the AAAS meeting.

Michael Pullman, research associate professor of psychiatry at the UW School of Medicine. He will be discussing ways to prevent the commercial sex trafficking of children and teens. He will present a study of the lifetime experiences of sexually exploited youth in the child welfare system, including their frequent changes in living situations and their times as runaways. Pullman will also be giving a news media press briefing at the conference uwnewsroom_legacy.

Laarni Kendra Aquila, research scientist in infectious diseases at the UW School of Medicine. She  will offer a poster session on her study of the sexually transmitted pathogen  Mycoplasma genitalium, which is highly prevalent in the general population.  The pathogen is difficult to treat effectively, and is developing antibiotic resistance. Aquila conducted her study with Gwendolyn Wood, acting assistant professor of medicine, Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,  and Benjamin McFarland of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Seattle Pacific University.

Carolyn Parsey, assistant professor of neurology and a neuropsychologist in the Department of Neurology UW Medicine Memory & Brain Wellness Center who specializes in dementia. She will speak on “Nature and Health: A Research Agenda for Interdisciplinary Collaborations.”  She is interested in bringing together experts from a variety of fields to help people have contact with the natural world in an era of increased exposure to technology and screen time.  Among the questions to be addressed are ways to assist those with physical and mental challenges enjoy nature.

Raj Swati Shree, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Division of Maternal and Fetal Medicine. She has been invited to be interviewed on the SciMic Stage for a Pitt Medcast.  She will be asked about her research on microchimerism in mothers after the delivery of their babies.  Microchimerism, in this case, is the continuing presence of fetal cells in the mother’s blood.  Microchimerism is suspected of having implications for a mother’s health, such as her risk of autoimmune disorders or transfusion complications.

Pamela Saha is a UW Medicine psychiatrist at the Psychiatric Emergency Services at Harborview Medical Center. She helped organize a conference at the AAAS on ethical concerns accompanying advances in technology and genetics.  The speakers will discuss such areas as religion, politics and public suspicion of scientific claims; ethical challenges of total-body positron tomography; and the future of genetic engineering.

Several speakers with joint appointments at UW Medicine and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center will also be presenting at the conference.  One of them is Trevor Bedford, of Fred Hutch and the UW Department of Genome Sciences. He will be part of a breaking news session on world-tracking of the new SARS coronavirus, the cause of COVID-19.

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