The future of curing blindness: Using the eye’s ability to rewire itself to find new cures.

Please join us on Monday, April 1, 2019 (no joke!) at 7:00pm for a discussion led by Dr. Anahit Hovhannisyan.

Blindness is one of the most common Neurodegenerative Disorders that affects over 21 million adults in United States.  It has been very challenging to find a cure, because the visual system is very complex and poorly understood.  Yet there is also hope, because the visual system is also very plastic, meaning that the nerves of the visual system can rewire to recover from damage. Scientists are working on combining a wide range of different approaches (genetic studies, physical and biological experiments) to answer one question: How can we treat blindness so that patients not only recover the basic ability to recognize objects, but also see the whole colorful and detailed beauty of life surrounding us?

Dr. Hovhannisyan is a biophysicist with a PhD from Tübingen University, Germany.  She has worked as a researcher at University of California Santa Cruz and Stanford University and she is currently a lecturer and researcher at California State University.  She looks for cures for blindness by better understanding this co-called plasticity, that is she studies the mechanisms that allow the visual system to rewire itself. She studies the eyes of mice, squirrel and rabbits as models for human eyes, building a foundation for developing techniques that implant photoreceptors in damaged retina and for increasing the efficiency of genetic treatment.

Who: Dr. Anahit Hovhannisyan

When: April 1, 2019 at 7PM

Where: Santa Fe Basque, 3110 N Maroa Ave., Fresno, CA 93704

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Rattlesnakes, Newts, and Toads: Chemical Defenses in California Reptiles and Amphibians

Please join us Monday March 4, 2019 at 7PM for an informative session on defense mechanisms of some of California’s fauna.

How is it that a single Rough-skinned Newt contains enough toxin in its skin to kill 58 humans? Why can some garter snakes feast on newts without any ill effects? Finding food and avoiding becoming somebody else’s meal are powerful forces for natural selection. This is certainly true if we examine how some of California’s snakes, salamanders, and frogs survive and thrive. Many of our native species employ powerful toxins in defense against predators. In some cases, the toxins are fairly mild and work by making the potential prey merely distasteful. However, in other species the toxins are incredibly powerful, capable of causing death.

Robert Hansen has a long-standing interest in the amphibians and reptiles of the American Southwest and Mexico. His research has included studying the ecology and systematics of salamanders, work that has led to descriptions of three new species in California. He is also keenly interested in desert snake communities, and in an ongoing study begun in 1982, he and collaborators have examined the local distribution, relative abundance, and activity patterns of snakes at the interface of the southern Sierra Nevada and Mojave Desert of California. An accomplished photographer, his photos of herpetological subjects have appeared in numerous books and journal articles. Since 1991, he has been Editor of Herpetological Review, a quarterly journal published by the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. In 2015, he received the SSAR Presidential Award for Lifetime Achievement in Herpetology.

Who: Robert Hansen

When: March 4, 2019 at 7PM

Where: Santa Fe Basque, 3110 N Maroa Ave., Fresno, CA 93704

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Jurassic Frankenstein: A Discussion About Maintaining Ethical Research

Please join us on Monday, February 4, for a panel discussion on the ethics of research.

The first genetically engineered human babies were born in China this year, kicking off another debate about scientific ethics.  How do we make sure that scientific research is ethical, in particular research involving humans or animals?  How can we test if a drug is safe to give to pregnant women? How are research animals protected? Can a step-parent give consent for their child to participate in a clinical trial? This month we ask the experts about how scientists and institutions police their research to ensure that scientific work is ethical.  Our panel members serve on the ethics boards of local research institutions or train early-career scientists in research ethics.

Who: Dr. Jones (Dept. Psychology, Fresno State University), Dr. Ozeran (UC San Franscisco Fresno Extension, and Valley Children’s Hospital), Dr. Telemeco, and Dr. Ross (both Dept. Biology, Fresno State University).

When: February 4, 2019 at 7PM

Where: Santa Fe Basque, 3110 N Maroa Ave., Fresno, CA 93704

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