Hello, Newmans: Family members join anthropology program

July 27, 2016

You wouldn’t think four students interested in four different fields — sustainability, geology, psychology and mathematics — would have much in common academically. This unique group unites, however, when it comes to pursuing anthropology at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

Oh, and they’re also all related. Left to right: Shelly, Mitchell, Briana and Elliott Newman Download Full Image

Brothers Mitchell and Elliott Newman recently finished earning associate degrees and will transfer to Arizona State University this fall for school's anthropology Bachelor of Science program. Their sister, Briana Newman, took anthropology courses from the school while earning her bachelor’s in psychology and will take more as she begins her master’s program this fall. The mother of these three, Shelly Newman, is a part-time student on her way to earning a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology.

So, how in the world did they all end up at the doors of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change?

Patient Zero for the family’s anthropology bug was Mitchell. A former engineering student at ASU, he took various anthropology courses at community college and got hooked. He’s considering adding a dual major in sustainability, but that’s not a problem; what attracted him to anthropology was its interdisciplinary nature, which lets him tie in his many different interests.

“Anthropology is a little of everything,” he said.

His decision would have a snowball effect. Mitchell soon convinced Elliott to take anthropology courses while getting his associate degree. He later swayed his brother, then undecided about his university major, to join him in the school's anthropology program. Now Elliott plans to double-major in geology and anthropology. His main interest is in geoarchaeology.

“I’m interested in looking at the human past by examining the soil layers,” he said.

While her brothers were taking anthropology at community colleges, Briana decided to take some classes from the school as related-field courses for her psychology degree. She sees psychology as an extension of anthropology because it also involves the study of humans, though on an interior level. When Briana returns to ASU in the fall for her master's in applied behavior analysis, she plans to continue taking anthropology courses when possible because of the unique viewpoint they offer.

“I’m trying to get a better picture of humans as a whole,” she said.

Shelly cites her kids’ enthusiasm as the inspiration behind her decision to change the major of her second bachelor’s degree from mathematics to anthropology with a math minor.

“I am a life-long learner and enjoy taking interesting courses,” she said. “Mitchell, Briana and Elliott ... sparked my interest.”

Shelly likes exploring a variety of anthropology topics. What strikes her most is that anthropologists have many opportunities to serve communities and preserve history through their work.

Thus we arrive at fall of 2016, where the four Newmans will attend the School of Human Evolution and Social Change together. Mitchell, for one, is stunned to have most of his family joining him.

“I never assumed we would all be going to ASU at the same time,” he laughed.

Being together, however, has its benefits.

For one, the Newmans can continue learning outside the classroom just by talking to each other. And each will be exposed to different perspectives since they’re focusing on different areas of anthropology.

“It’s nice to be able to talk to each other and be on the same level,” Shelly said.

Their situation is also very practical; they essentially have their own automatic study group. They can get ready for exams, help each other with projects and even recommend courses to one another. Though they’ve already done a little of this in the past, the effect will be even stronger once all four are at ASU.

“I think as we all start in the fall, we’ll provide an even better support platform,” Mitchell said.

Elliott and Mitchell have enrolled in two courses together for this fall — “Doing Archaeology” and “Death and Dying in Cross-Cultural Perspective” — which will give them ample opportunities to push each other to succeed.

After finishing their anthropology coursework, the Newmans already have some ideas about what they’d like to do.

Elliott aspires to work for the U.S. Interior Department as an archaeologist or a geologist, or perhaps a combination of the two. Mitchell wants to study how humans have made sustainability mistakes in the past and how we can correct them to improve the future. Briana, with her insight from anthropology, plans to become a certified behavior analyst and possibly continue her present work with autistic children. Shelly hopes to do anthropological volunteer work after she retires from her computer programming job, with a particular interest in helping historic communities map and preserve their deteriorating cemeteries.

In looking toward the future, one question rises to the front — might there be even more Newmans joining the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in years to come?

“We actually just talked to our cousins the other day,” Mitchell said. The siblings’ cousins are starting community college and may look to the school for a bachelor’s degree in a couple of years.

“And the grandkids, you never know,” added Shelly. “I’ve got four.”

Mikala Kass

Communications Specialist, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


From labs to lives: Self-replicating cells help treat neuro disorders

July 27, 2016

Scientists estimate that human bodies contain anywhere from 75 to 100 trillion cells. And of these cells, there are hundreds of different types.

Yet, one cell type in particular has captured the fascination of assistant professor David Brafman: the human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC). David Brafman Lab at Arizona State University Assistant professor David Brafman mentoring biomedical engineering junior Lexi Bounds, who plans to pursue a career in stem cell research. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU Download Full Image

As self-replicating cells — capable of dividing and forming new cells — hPSCs offer immense research potential.

They are able to provide the raw material needed to generate the hundreds of different cell types that comprise the human body.

Think of it as a reverse e pluribus unum. Something like out of one, come many.

Brafman has received a $420,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to take discoveries related to hPSCs out of the research lab and into the clinical setting where they can transform, even save, lives.

In particular, his research focuses on using the remarkable qualities of hPSCs to generate large quantities of hPSC-derived neurons, which are instrumental in advances toward the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, spinal cord injuries and other neurodegenerative disorders.

“Neurodegenerative diseases and disorders remain some of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity in the United States,” said Brafman, a biomedical engineering faculty member in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease affects more than 130,000 individuals statewide and is the fifth leading cause of death in Arizona.

“Several bottlenecks limit the translation of hPSCs and their derivatives from bench to bedside,” said Brafman, referring to the need to take this research from the laboratory bench to the clinical bedside.

For one, it requires billions of cells for research in disease modeling, drug screening, and cell-based therapies to be successful. So far, a rapid and comprehensive generation of these cells hasn’t been possible, and Brafman’s research aims to usher in the large-scale expansion of hPSC-derived neurons needed for these treatments and research applications.

“If successful, this work will provide researchers robust methods to generate the large quantities of cells needed for clinical applications,” Brafman said.

This NIH funding builds upon previous seed grant funding support from the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium, the Mayo Clinic and ASU.

“The funding provided by seed grant opportunities allowed us to acquire the preliminary data necessary to be competitive for these larger NIH grants,” Brafman said.

Brafman also has earned funding from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine and the National Science Foundation.

Enhancing stem cell research at ASU

In addition to his NIH funding, earlier this year Brafman earned a grant from the ASU Women and Philanthropy Association for his work in establishing the ASU Stem Cell Training and Research (STaR) program.

“The use of stem cell-based technologies to treat devastating diseases requires a strong stem cell engineering program that will train young scientists with specialized knowledge and skills,” Brafman explained.

Beginning this summer, Brafman is building a comprehensive training program for stem cell engineers, paving the way for ASU and Arizona to become world leaders in the development of stem cell-based technologies and therapies.

Ten students in STaR’s first cohort completed their laboratory-based training courses and have begun their research internships in a diverse set of ASU laboratories.

“Dr. Brafman has brought a unique and much needed expertise to ASU in stem cell engineering,” said Marco Santello, director of the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Santello said Brafman’s expertise allows his research program to “attract top students and build interdisciplinary collaborations within ASU and several clinical institutions in the Phoenix area.”

Before joining ASU in 2015, Brafman was the Kaehr Stem Cell Young Investigator at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine at the University of California San Diego. He was also a Burnham Family Foundation Fellow at the Rady School of Management, where he earned his MBA in 2013.

Brafman’s work has been featured in many acclaimed journals such as Cell Reports, Cell Death and Differentiation, proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Stem Cell Reports.

His laboratory brings together dozens of graduate and undergraduate students from the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, the School of Life Sciences and the School of Molecular Sciences.

“Stem cell engineering spans a broad spectrum of research disciplines from developmental biology to more traditional engineering areas such as materials science. At ASU, we are really fortunate to have students that have interests and training in these various areas,” Brafman said.

Rose Gochnour Serago

Communications Program Coordinator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering