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“Biodefense: Detection To Protect The Nation” Is Topic For
Merced College Science On Saturday Lecture

April 21, 2004

Anthrax…flu…SARS… the common cold…how can we tell the difference between them?

Practically everyone has experienced catching a cold or flu, especially during the winter season. Despite the miserable coughing, fever and runny nose -- such infectious diseases are usually not life-threatening. In recent years, however, newer and more deadly diseases have emerged to threaten the public health. These newer agents are particularly dangerous, because the initial symptoms of infection are the same as those for the common cold or flu. So, how can we tell the difference between a common cold and SARS…or between the flu and anthrax? In addition to recognition, how do we detect it early enough in order to prevent an epidemic outbreak that could kill thousands? Furthermore, with the current threat of bioterrorism, how do we educate ourselves in order to protect ourselves?

Ask yourself, “Which is more dangerous – an ounce of plutonium or an ounce of influenza virus?” Then ask yourself, “How can I protect myself from the next global killer?”

Polychrome methylene blue stain of Bacillus anthracis.You will find the answers -- and more, by attending Merced College’s Science on Saturday (SOS) lecture, to be held this Saturday, April 24, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at the Delhi High School Theater. This is the second in a series of three lectures co-sponsored by Merced College, Lawrence Livermore Lab, UC Merced, Merced Union High School District, Los Banos Unified School District, and Delhi Unified School District. All lectures are geared toward middle and high school-age students, and are aligned with the California Science Standards. The event is free of charge and open to the public. Teachers are invited to attend and to also encourage the participation of their students. Delhi High School is located at 16881 Schendel Avenue in Delhi.

With “Biodefense: Detection to Protect the Nation” as the topic of this lecture, students will learn the basic techniques of biological detection and see how scientists and engineers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) are using these methods to develop new tools to detect outbreaks of infectious disease in the population. Participants of this lecture will have the privilege of listening to two highly-respected LLNL scientists speak.

Dora M. Gutierrez is a senior research associate and biomedical engineer at M-Division (Medical Physics & Biophysics) at LLNL. In recognition of her unusual background and expertise, the Science and Technology Education Program (STEP) at LLNL invited Gutierrez to talk about her work and share her experiences with students interested in science and engineering. Over the past year, she has become a regular guest speaker at public events such as the Edward Teller Science Symposium and the “Science on Saturday” lecture series sponsored by LLNL.

Originally from the San Fernando Valley in Southern California, Gutierrez trained as an undergraduate in bioengineering at the University of California at Berkeley. Her early interest in science education outreach for local middle and high school students led her to become vice-president of the Hispanic Engineers and Scientists (HES) association at the UC Berkeley.

In 1999, Gutierrez joined a group of scientists and engineers who then comprised the Medical Technology Program (MTP) at LLNL. One of her first projects involved building a new fiber optic-based sensor for minimal or micro-invasive diagnostic applications. After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in 2001, Gutierrez was invited to return to the Lab as a full-time researcher developing advanced methods for biodetection in conjunction with work for the new U.S. Department of Homeland Security. She was involved at the inception of the Microbead Immunoassay Diagnostic System (MIDS) and is currently working to develop the Autonomous Pathogen Detection System (APDS), which is designed for early and rapid detection of potential biothreat agents in the environment.

Joining Dr. Gutierrez, will be Dr. Frank Chuang, Medical Scientist, UC Davis Medical Center and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Chuang is a medical scientist and bioengineer – working jointly at LLNL, University of California (UC) Davis Cancer Center and NSF Center for Biophotonics, Science & Technology (CBST). After completing his undergraduate work in bioengineering at UC Berkeley in 1987, Frank joined a multidisciplinary team of physicians, scientists and engineers based at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), UCSF and Stanford University Medical Centers to develop a new method of treating surgically-inoperable brain tumors using high-energy particle beams generated by the powerful Bevalac research accelerator at LBNL.

In 1990 he received an NIH graduate fellowship to enter the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Frank earned a doctorate in biophysics and immunology for his work using fluorescence microscopy and spectroscopy to investigate transmembrane signaling in human white blood cells. After completing his medical training in 2000, Dr. Chuang returned as a post-doctoral researcher to the Medical Physics & Biophysics Division of LLNL, working on new biomedical technologies supported by the new U.S. Department of Homeland Security. One project in particular: the Microbead Immunoassay Diagnostic System (MIDS) was designed to be a handheld device that used fluorescent microbeads to efficiently capture and detect microbial pathogens at the earliest stages of infection.

With his background in biomedical science, bioengineering and clinical medicine, Frank received an academic appointment last year through the UC Davis Medical Center and is involved with several new research projects at LLNL, including (1) using metallic “nanobarcodes” as molecular tags for biodetection, and (2) the development of a compact, proton accelerator that will produce particle beams for radiation treatment of cancer and other tumors.

Merced College will be holding its last lecture at the Los Banos High School Theater on May 15, 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The topic will be “Plasma Spectroscopy: What is it? How do we use it? What happens at 100,000,000 degrees?”

For more information, call 384-6336 or access the web site at

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