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Golden Scholars: UC tuition may be on the rise; Berkeley makes huge progress in cancer research and wins all of the awards

All the latest news out of UC Berkeley as we win awards for our great research, like a potential game changer in cancer research. Also, the University of California system considers increasing tuition. Good idea or bad idea?

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This week, UC Berkeley opened a center on campus for their veteran-students, as there are 250 confirmed veterans currently enrolled and that number is only expected to grow.

A look at UC Berkeley's history with the military.

With the rise of electric cars threatening the stability of our electrical grids, Scott Moura and Alexei Pozdnoukhov believe we must design "Smart Cities" to avoid catastrophe.

Check out this video explaining the Nobel-winning work of Elizabeth Blackburn (who performed the research as a Berkeley professor) and Carol Greider (who performed the research as a Berkeley grad student and won as a Berkeley professor):

In this week's edition of "Get Ruey to explain it," Berkeley Lab will proceed with experiments to study dark matter and WIMPs.

Professor Ken Goldberg is developing ways to utilize robots in the diagnosis and treatment related to Ebola.

(Blame the KPIX code for the giant white space above.)

Revisiting a previous story, the University of California will continue funding Lick Observatory.

Associate professor Julianna Deardorff is the co-author of a book to educate the public about puberty and to "provid[e] parents with practical tools to navigate their way[s] through this important stage of their daughters' lives" due in part to the rise in cases of puberty occurring at younger ages.

Fire scientists insist that "fighting fire" is the wrong way to phrase the issue—we need to "coexist" with fires.

Berkeley grad students are developing practical solutions to problems with cookstoves that can be fatal for users.

UC Berkeley professors like Adam Arkin are seeing methods of sending bacteria on long-term space missions as a means of "provid[ing] small amounts of needed materials, plus renewable, nutritional and taste-engineered food, and drugs-on-demand." Yay, synthetic biology!

Berkeley makes cancer and that's a good thing?

In this week's edition of "ask our resident cancer expert, TheBuckeyeBear," I bring you the latest in cancer research at UC BerkeleyBerkeley Lab may have revolutionized research by providing labs with cancer cells for experiments that more closely mirror native cancer cells.

The problem with current research is that the supply of cells have been derived from cancer tissueand have accumulated a number of unpredictable genetic mutations. It's entirely possible these mutations are inconsequential and any research findings will hold when applied to actual cancer tissue. It's also possible these mutations have completely invalidated the model and researchers were basically using a train as a model to understand how cars work.

But, perhaps that will no longer be the case thanks to Berkeley Lab (with a bit of an assist from the Arizona Wildcats).

The key trait with cancer cells is the ability to replicate indefinitely. These researchers replicated this by studying how cells naturally enter their hibernation centered around two factors: p16 and c-Myc.

When cells get stressed out, their natural response is to stop dividing as a defense mechanism. They accomplish this by producing a protein called p16 that shuts itself down, like a self-destruct button. Logically, the researchers targeted this pathway by introducing an agent that deactivates p16.

The second method developed by these scientists was based on telomeres. (Pop quiz! Did you watch the video above about Blackburn and Greider's Nobel work?) Telomeres are, put simply, a marker of age for a cell. Long story short, when a cells runs out of its telomeres, then it has a massive failure and stops replicating. It's not entirely a finite resource as the cell has a specific enzyme that builds new telomeres. (Well gee, finding out how cells lengthen telomeres is a sure-fire way to win a Nobel Prize and junk.) So, researchers ensured this simulated-cancer cell line kept on dividing by introducing a factor that keeps the telomere-extending enzyme nice and active. (This factor—c-Myc—is one of the four Yamanaka factors that are used to create stem cells.)

The result is an easy-to-reproduce procedure that yields immortal human epithelial cells. In addition, the procedure doesn't require genomic alterations to the cells.

"That's important. It allows us to study the mechanisms underlying immortalization as it occurs in cells with normal genomes. It's a very good model of a critical step in cancer progression," says Garbe. "We believe that research on these cells may stimulate new approaches for therapeutic intervention in cancer progression at the earliest stages."

Celebrities, science, and schooling

The Breakthrough Prizes is awarding success in academia with $3M prizes and bringing tons of publicity by making it like any other award show, full of celebrities hosting, attending, and performing songs. UC Berkeley was well-represented among the winners thanks to Berkeley professor Jennifer Doudna for her work in genetic engineering and Berkeley professor Saul Perlmutter and Berkeley researcher Adam Riess for proving that the universe is expanding.

Prof Perlmutter said that it was great that the prize awarded whole teams working on a project.

"What's wonderful this time is that it gets spread among the entire research group that was able to work on this project, and that's very unusual for a prize, it's very rare that you really recognise that science nowadays isn't the lone scientist in the white coat going off into a lab by himself, it's really this very social activity."

The Berkeley Lab site has great summaries for Doudna's and Perlmutter's projects.

In my day, tuition at UC Berkeley cost a nickel

A proposal is... proposing... that the University of California should increase tuition up to 5% per year for 5 years at all campuses, like UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and UC Los Angeles. To help you frame the issue, annual tuition is currently $12,192, which could increase up to $12,804.

Up first, let's take a look at some of the reasoning behind this move. For one, the regents argue that these steady and predictable increases are preferred to unexpected and out-of-nowhere increases in the event of doom.

But [the UC regents] said higher tuition is needed anyway because the funding, which applies only to UC's academic budget, equates to an increase of just 1.7 percent - the current rate of U.S. inflation. That's "far less than what's needed to meet student and university needs. And far less than the state's investment in UC only six years ago when we educated thousands fewer students."

The undergraduate tuition and fee increase would bring in $100 million each year, said Nathan Brostrom, UC's chief financial officer, who blamed inflation - including UC's growing pension needs and rising salaries - for the need to raise the price.

He also said the new money would help upgrade technology, repair aging infrastructure, enroll 5,000 more California residents, and ease crowded classrooms by allowing UC to hire more faculty.

"Our student-faculty ratio is much higher than you'd find at universities we often compete with," said Brostrom, adding that more and more students are demanding to enroll.

On the other hand, what's the argument against it? I guarantee it's more than just mo money (for the UC) mo problems (for the UC). First of all, Governor Jerry Brown promised increased funding contingent on tuition holding steady at the 201112 rate; increasing tuition risks losing this funding. Studentspredictablyare against having to pay more, especially keeping in mind those students who are already struggling to make the necessary cheddar to stay enrolled.

Many are conflicted on the issue, understanding that the state of California is not adequately funding the system andexacerbating the issuesincreasing the salaries of UC employees.

I find this situation is a bit of a catch-22. Ideally, education should be made freely available to anyone who's interested and motivated. However, in the real world, goods and services often require money in order to be exchanged. the UC can't just supply elite education without paying professors or spending money to keep facilities and equipment up to date.