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Golden Scholars: UC Berkeley researchers control cell migration, revolutionize economics with Buddha

The start of a new series bringing focus to the academic discoveries being done right next-door to Memorial Stadium and Haas Pavilion. Getting things started with the non-magic magic at Berkeley, teaching economics with Buddha, and using Oski to help advance tissue engineering and wound healing.

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

We here at CGB are starting a new series to highlight the great research and academic work being done at UC Berkeley. One of the things I love most about this university is its ability to succeed in the world of athletics and academics, so we should spend some time sharing the amazing work being done by our athletes and our academians.

Coincidentally, the university just released a video on Twitter to promote this very balance of success in athletics and academics.

The video features several prominent Berkeley researchersincluding Jay Keasling, Homayoon Kazerooni, and Robert Reichand I'm sure their work will be discussed in this series sooner rather than later (Keasling especially!).

For today, I'd like to share some stories that capture the Berkeley spirit pretty well. Up first is the work of economics professor Clair Brown, who's looking to change the way the world views spending money and focus instead on reducing suffering and helping others. To accomplish this, she's helping to spread and advocate Buddhist economics.

[A]pplying Buddhist principles to the way an economy operates would produce an economy designed primarily to meet the needs of people. In accord with the Buddhist concept of "right livelihood," [Buddhist economics creator, E.F.] Schumacher called for jobs that are valued for their psychological and spiritual values, as well as for what they produce. He wrote that Buddhist economics also would bring sustainability into economics, while helping the neediest and encouraging citizens to be happy with enough, instead of more.

Buddhist economics is not about willingly living in poverty and donating all of one's earnings. The mission is given in Brown's syllabus, which asks the students to consider the value of "the Buddhist mandate to minimize suffering, and are driven by compassion rather than desire?" Workers don't have to give up every penny that one rightfully earns, but the message is to focus on help others, not that bling-bling or the shiniest grill (sorry, Marshawn). Students seem to be responding well to the proposal as one cited growing tired of seeing colleagues focus on making money rather than working to the benefit of the world.

Brown's course is so quintessentially Berkeley. It's taking the field of economics (a field in which Berkeley excels and has won a few Nobels) and is trying to turn it on its side in order to help others. It's this kind of thought, which is both radical and altruistic, that Berkeley is known for. All it needs is more tie-dye!

As a bioengineer, one Berkeley news story that caught my eye recently was the use of electrical current to control the migration of mammalian cells in culture, with proposed applications in tissue engineering and wound healing; the work is coming from the lab of Michel Maharbiz, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science (EECS). By applying this work (and this current) to a culture of epithelial cells, treatment based on this discovery has the potential to be used on "skin, kidneys, cornea, and other organs." Basically, this means there's great potential for application all over your body because epithelial cells are everywhere!

The article has a few proposed implementations for this technique. The actual process of growing a culture of mammalian cells is as annoying as listening to the Trojan band drone on and on and on. They only grow in flat sheets and start to act funny and cranky when they have completely covered the surface of the plate, but the ability to control growth like this could overcome these limitations. These electrical cues could also be to direct a "smart bandage" that could adapt to the dynamic state of the wound.

I think this is a great piece to kick off the Golden Scholars series for a variety of reasons. First of all, it's of great interest to me personally and I can safely assume that all of you will blindly follow all of the things that interest me. Secondly, I think this research's use of bringing together to different entities (EECS and bioengineering, UC Berkeley and UCSF) demonstrates the importance of interdisciplinary relationships in research and mirrors the coming together of academics and athletics at Berkeley. Lastly, they grew cells in the shape of the beloved "Walking Bear" image of Oski! Clearly the perfect starting point for Golden Scholars!

Since this is still a new series for CGB, please feel free to leave any feedback in the comments section. Any suggestions for a different name? Any subjects you're interested in learning more about? Do you hate all things Berkeley and just want to focus on Cal?