Dominican Unveils Science Center

At a June 7 ribbon-cutting ceremony, Dominican offered visitors a preview of the University’s $20 million Science Center. The building is due to open in August, and a public open house will be held this fall.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony marked a milestone for the University’s campus development and for Dominican’s delivery of quality education.

“Our outstanding science faculty has created a progressive curriculum appropriate for the challenges and opportunities of society today,” said Dominican President Joseph R. Fink. “The Science Center will provide our faculty researchers with a facility that will allow their energy, creativity, and intellectual curiosity — as well as that of their students — to grow and thrive.”

The 35,000 square foot Science Center houses more than 30 classrooms and labs, including teaching, biology, chemistry, and computer technology labs for faculty and student use.

The building will serve students from all disciplines, including nursing students and students in the School of Education preparing to teach science and technology in K-12 schools. The Science Center also will help train students for careers in medicine and science, particularly the booming biotechnology sector.

At Dominican, science students get involved with research in their freshman year. Students are working alongside faculty on research projects such as breast cancer, stem sells, sudden oak death, the genetics of alcohol addiction, and biofuels.

Included in the building are seven faculty-student research labs, four special instrument rooms, two computer technology rooms, and nine teaching labs, including a cell biology and biochemistry lab; a microbiology and molecular biotechnology lab; a general and organic chemistry lab; and analytical and quantitative chemistry lab; an anatomy and physiology lab; an animal sciences lab; a field biology lab; a plant science lab; and a physics lab.

A sample of  research at Dominican:

Breast Cancer: Dr. Maggie Louie

Dr. Maggie Louie and her students are investigating what enables breast cancer cells to develop resistance to the most widely used treatment medication, and why the incidence of breast cancer is so high in Marin County. Dr. Louie is studying how the heavy metal cadmium — an environmental contaminant that enters the body through consumption of contaminated food, water or inhalation of cigarette smoke — contributes to the development of breast cancer.  Her preliminary findings not only show that cadmium promotes breast cancer cell growth, but her lab may have also identified a potential pathway for its action.

Coral Reef  Ecology: Dr. Vania Coelho
Dr. Vania Coelho and her student research assistants study threats to coral reefs by examining the interaction of species in coral reef ecosystems. Dr. Coelho completed most of her doctorate research while she was working as a visiting scientist at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. After completing her doctorate, Dr. Coelho held a post-doctoral research scientist position initially, and later an associate research scientist position, at Columbia University. Dr. Coelho’s research focuses on ecology and evolutionary biology of marine invertebrates. Her research interests include benthic community ecology, population biology, behavior, systematics of crustaceans, and coral reef ecology.

Non-Native Weeds in Natural Areas: Dr. Sibdas Ghosh/Dr. Mietek Kolipinski
Under the direction of Dr. Sibdas Ghosh, students at Dominican are investigating current issues in biochemistry that have profound implications for protecting the environment and producing food for the world. Students are working to discover how Sudden Oak Death kills trees in California, looking for soil bacteria that help plants survive drought, and investigating how non-native plants spread in protected areas, threatening to wipe out native species.

Stem Cells: Dr. Mohammed El Majdoubi
Biology professor Dr. Mohammed El Majdoubi and a team of undergraduates are working on making beating heart cells from frozen mouse embryonic stem cells in their lab at Dominican University of California. Their experience in the lab helps prepare them for further study, as well as research jobs in the growing field of biotechnology. Across the United States, only a handful of labs are able to make beating heart cells from embryonic stem cells. Dr. Majdoubi and his students are following a protocol created by the Gladstone Institute for Cardiovascular Disease to initiate a culture of undifferentiated mouse embryonic stem cells and then induce these cells to differentiate to form various cell lineages such as neurons and, eventually, beating heart cells.

Health and Recreation: Dr. Diara Spain
This spring, Dr. Diara Spain was awarded a $30,000 National Park Service grant to support a project titled  “Take a Walk on the Wild Side: A Menu of Recreational Opportunities at Point Reyes National Seashore,” which is part of a larger study being conducted by the NPS. The park service has selected seven pilot parks to serve as models for incorporation of healthy recreational activities into American lifestyles. Point Reyes National Seashore was chosen as an “urban” pilot park for the Pacific West Region of the United States. The Dominican team is conducting surveys of park users this spring and summer in order to create a plan to increase recreational physical activity by park visitors. The survey will focus on visitors using the Cross Marin Trail, the Bear Valley Trail, and Limantour Beach Trail.

Biochemical Mechanisms of Alcohol Addiction: Dr. Asma Asyyed
Dr. Asyyed's research interest is in the neurological processes of alcohol addiction. While at UCSF she was involved in two research projects. The first project was to study the effects of ethanol on CRE-mediated gene transcription in mice, using biochemical, behavioral, and neuroanatomical techniques (Asyyed et., 2006).  The second research project was to study candidate genes that may have a link with alcoholism (ADORA1, MOR, and PKIB genes), using molecular biology and biochemical techniques.

Bio-fuels:  Dr. Kenneth Frost
Kenneth Frost obtained his BA in chemistry in 1966 and PhD in Chemistry in 1971 from Indiana University. For 34 years, he held a variety of technical and management positions at Chevron. In 2005, Dr. Frost returned to teaching at Dominican, where he currently teaches organic chemistry lab and quantitative analysis. His research interests include fuel and lubricant impact on vehicle performance and emissions. At Chevron, Dr. Frost worked on aspects of air pollution photochemistry and followed that assignment with a series of research and research management jobs which included technical responsibility for almost all the fuel and lubricant products and additives for them that Chevron and its additive company sells.  His group had direct responsibility for the development of Techron.
Natural Products for Mental Health: Dr. Graciela Miranda
Central Nervous System (CNS) disorders are many, varied, and affect a very large portion of the population worldwide. These debilitating disorders include neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia. These disorders are complex, pervasive and have devastating effects not only on those suffering from them but also on their families and caregivers. Although remarkable advances have been made in the treatment of CNS disorders, many of the drugs currently available merely treat the symptoms but do not offer cures. Fairly recently, a renewed interest in natural products and natural product-derived compounds as a source for new leads in drug discovery programs has arisen due to diverse factors. One of these is the recognition of the value of information derived from various systems of traditional medicine (ethnomedicine) and its utility for drug discovery purposes. The present research focuses on the study of the chemistry of natural products used in traditional medicine with potential applications in the treatment of CNS disorders.

Posted June 7, 2007