Category Archives: College Health and Human Sciences

Challenging assumptions about wellness and illness through the lens of Mad Studies

Our entire environment is built upon assumptions about how someone is supposed to move and interact with/in the world. Although disability studies have been around for a long time, in recent years the field has distanced itself from the medical model of disability, in which people with disabilities are viewed as flawed and in need of cure, instead towards a social model of disability. In the social model of disability, an individual in a wheelchair is not the problem; rather, the problem is the building without a ramp and automatic doors. As a 2nd year PhD student of Dr. Patty Duncan in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at OSU, Lzz Johnk pursues questions posed by Mad Studies scholars, such as, what does it mean to think of Mad, neuroqueer, neurodivergent, and mentally disabled people as self-organizing political agents, instead of individuals who society must deal with to maintain order? The core of Lzz’s research consists of applying a genealogical lens to the root of Mad Studies, which is a field examining the lived experiences and culture surrounding individuals identifying as mentally ill, neurodiverse, mentally disabled, and/or Mad. From a white-dominated, Amerocentric perspective, Mad Studies has been around for ~10 years, although the field actually goes back much further, with its roots in the perspectives of people of color, and more specifically, women of color. Lzz explains, “we need to interrogate who gets to decide what constitutes Mad Studies.”

Framing the history of Mad Studies

Examining and interrogating the history of Mad Studies requires understanding the relationships within that history. The location and history of the institution provides framework for the context of the research being done within, as institutions are saturated in the history of the land. Specifically, what does it mean for a white, European settler at a land grant institution such as OSU to be working and researching in a field steeped in the lived experiences of Indigenous people and people of color? Much of the work being done in Mad Studies is limited to the perspectives of cis-masculine individuals and ignores the work of marginalized peoples.

We are all stigmatized to varying extents based on components of our identities, be it national identity, religion, gender, or social class, which is conceptually encompassed by a theory forwarded by Black and other feminists of colour known as intersectionality. The degree to which these stigmas overlap and compound, can effectively result in more acute and damaging marginalization. Historically, people of color and femme and/or gender-deviant people have been hyper-diagnosed as Mad (think of the stereotype of hysteria applied to women). As an example, in considering borderline personality disorder as discussed by writer Susanna Kaysen, Lzz asks, “where is the border-line? Why do women cross that line so often? That line has historically been set and upheld by white settler cis-masculine doctors who determine the boundaries of Madness and wellness. But, the closer you look at the line, the harder it is to define.”

Implementing change

One reason Lzz cites as motivation to return to the academy is to be part of the conversation to make real change in the lives of people identifying as Mad. Changes are being implemented at an unacceptably slow rate. However, Lzz’s research is not directly associated with generating tailored recommendations about health, and explains, “we should be really cautious about the people and institutions making recommendations, by asking what community they are coming from and what their intentions might be. The tendency of entire fields to broad-brush people, and to distill people’s identities into crude stereotypes that get turned against them in moments of vulnerability – as if it is remotely possible to categorize an individual’s whole life experience – is one reason why Mad and disabled people are so stigmatized in our culture.”

Lzz cites the work of Gloria Anzaldúa, a Chicana feminist, as being a critical influence on their wanting to pursue the study of Madness. Anzaldúa wrote and theorized mind-body differences embodying what gets pathologized as Madness or disability. Lzz relates how the work of Anzaldúa exposed them to the concept of navigating overlapping interstitial spaces – or “the space between things, where things don’t fit; falling between, but not quite fitting into binary systems of identity, such as gender.” In this sense, Mad and disabled people are continually finding ourselves in ambiguous terrain.

Why OSU?

Lzz completed their undergrad at Michigan State University in Cultural Anthropology with a certificate in Asian Studies, followed by completion of an MA at Eastern Michigan University in Women and Gender Studies. Lzz felt they could handle doctoral-level work, and also felt strongly that the institution they ended up pursuing a PhD at would need to embrace their Madness. About OSU, Lzz says, “the faculty in my program, in all of their various subfields, are really stellar. Even faculty who don’t necessarily position themselves within Mad Studies are supportive.”

Future directions

Lzz loves teaching and research and would like to pursue these endeavors after graduate school. They also enjoy community work and plan to be involved in outreach to young people who might need support in navigating their neuroqueerness, Madness, and/or mental illness. As someone who has experienced violent pathologization firsthand – fostering a sense of self-hatred instead of acceptance and celebration – Lzz feels that teaching can be one way to disrupt those violences and impact people’s lives in a tangible and meaningful way.

You will not want to miss our interview with Lzz on Sunday, September 16th at 7pm. Listen live on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live. Also, check us out on Apple Podcasts!

How do bone cancer cells become resistant to chemotherapy?

Limited treatments for bone cancer Bone cancer is a devastating and poorly understood disease with few available treatment options in humans. The disease disproportionately impacts young adults and children, and treatment still often includes amputation of the affected limb. Relapse within one year is common. Dogs can also spontaneously develop bone cancer, which makes them a suitable model for comparative oncology: insights about disease progression in dogs can yield insights about the disease in humans.

Animal models – one size does not fit all The difficulty of establishing a robust animal model has impeded scientists’ ability to study bone cancer rigorously. For example, although mice are commonly used to study human disease, they do not develop bone cancer spontaneously. Invasive tumor tissue grafts are required to study the disease in mice, which adds confounding variables to the results – it is not necessarily clear if an observed effect is the result of the tumor or the grafting procedure.

Understanding how chemotherapy resistance develops As a 2nd year Master’s student in the College of Veterinary Medicine, Marcus Weinman is working towards understanding how bone cancer tumors adapt and acquire resistance to chemotherapy. He has been developing canine osteosarcoma cell lines to study disease progression, which entails exposing cells to chemotherapy until they become resistant. Using a variety of molecular biology techniques, Marcus investigates how cells acquire resistance, and whether specific molecules or groups of molecules are more active or less active as resistance develops. The goal is to identify possible targets within the cell that might be sensitive to therapeutic intervention.  

Complexity of bone cancer cells Cells contain exosomes – small packages containing a diverse mix of molecules – that participate in signaling and transfer of molecules between cells. These compact cellular packages are being investigated for their role in the development of resistance. These tumor cells are also endocrine tumors – they express hormones normally found in other tissues, such as the brain and the gut – which adds a layer of physiology to the already-complex nature of cancer.

Why cancer research? Originally from Denver, Colorado, Marcus knew he wanted to attend OSU to pursue research opportunities. He completed his undergraduate studies at OSU, and attributes part of his desire to attend OSU to a deep family connection to Corvallis – his grandfather was a professor at OSU!

After completing his Master’s, Marcus plans to attend med school, with the eventual goal of becoming an oncologist, while maintaining his connection to research. He emphasizes how the teaching component of medicine is a motivating factor in his desire to become a physician. As a clinician, he would like to teach patients how to take care of themselves by integrating educational and interpersonal aspects of medicine.

Join us on Sunday, July 29th at 7pm on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to hear more from Marcus about his research and experience as a graduate student at OSU.

 

Putting kids in the driver’s seat: How modified ride-on cars let kids with disabilities drive their own development

My mother often tells the story of when I first learned to walk: Instead of sluggishly taking one step at a time, I would quickly take five or six steps as I accelerated into the floor or surrounding walls — Bang! She says I learned to run before I would walk. Based on my old scars I think she’s right. Many families have memories of their children’s first steps.  But how about baby’s first drive?  This Sunday we interview Christina Hospodar, finishing her M.S. in Kinesiology with an option in Adapted Physical Activity, who is working to better understand how providing modified ride-on cars to children with disabilities as a source of mobility can help to close the developmental gaps between children with disabilities and their typically developing peers.

Throughout infancy and early childhood, movement is key to learning. Mobility at a young age allows children to begin exploring their surroundings, which helps with not only motor development, but also language, social, and cognitive skills. While crawling towards mom or chasing birds in the park may seem like that is all it is, these experiences are embedded with inherent learning opportunities; learning to move in and of itself is a learning opportunity! Once you can direct your own movement, this propels a cascade of cognitive advancements. For example, once babies begin walking and their hands become more available to explore objects, they begin bringing favorite toys or novel finds to parents, and consequentially hear more words as they engage in these social bids. Many developmental advancements arise following the ability to independently move through their environment, of course alongside many smiles and giggles.

Go Baby Go is a community-based outreach program that provides modified ride-on cars to children with disabilities as a source of self-directed mobility. By modifying the activation switch and adding more supportive seating with common materials such as PVC pipe, pool noodles, and foam kickboards, children with disabilities can use the ride-on cars as an accessible powered mobility device.

It is estimated that approximately 500,000 children in the United States have some sort of mobility limitation. Children under 5 report unmet mobility needs almost twice as often as older children, with 61% of families report that gaining access to a mobility aid is “difficult.” While some children may have a more clear limitation in their ability to walk around the house and knock cups off the table, there is also the undercover impact of potentially delayed cognitive, social, and language development. This “exploration gap” happens during formative years, when decreased movement may have far-reaching consequences on overall development. One solution is powered mobility. Parents can buy wheelchairs with a joystick so their children can move independently and at their own will. However, powered pediatric wheelchairs often cost upwards of $17,000, which even with (limited) insurance coverage, often makes these devices completely inaccessible. Further, no commercial device exists for children 2 and under, which denies access at an age which may have the most benefit. Not to mention the social stigma of using an assistive device, with even clinicians often viewing powered mobility as a “last resort.”

A more recent version of the modified ride-on car is called a Sit-to-Stand (STS) car. Here, there is a reverse-activated switch in the seat, so the child must pull to stand and remain standing in order to power the vehicle. This combines functional training with the experience of powered mobility.

That’s where the work of the Social Mobility Lab at Oregon State University comes back into the picture. Under the direction of Dr. Sam Logan, a large part of Christina and her lab group’s work revolves around Go Baby Go Oregon, one of about 75 national and international chapters. Started in 2012 at the University of Delaware by Dr, Cole Galloway, Go Baby Go is a community-based outreach program that provides modified ride-on cars to kids with disabilities as a source of self-directed mobility. With a total cost of around $200, the modified ride-on cars are affordable, portable, and perhaps most importantly, FUN. Ride-on cars can be purchased from standard box stores like Walmart or Toys R Us. Then, these cars are electrically and structurally modified to make them more user-friendly and accessible to any child. Most standard ride-on cars are operated by a foot pedal or very small button switch, so in order to make the vehicle more accessible to children with disabilities, they modify the electrical wiring by adding a large easy-to press activation switch. Now, the car will move via an oversized button on the steering wheel. They also reinforce the structure and support of the vehicle with PVC pipe and pool noodles so there are more soft-touch contact points to keep the child secure. Maybe the child has a vision impairment? They can make the steering wheel a very big and very colorful button. What if the child needs to be able to sit upright? They design a support system integrated into the car so the child can maintain an upright posture. The essence of being a kid is mostly about playing and exploration; this program and these devices are helping to make sure that all kids can be kids and get into just as much trouble as anybody else.

Christina’s work goes beyond the community-outreach sector of Go Baby Go. With Dr. Logan and lab mates, Christina is working to quantify the benefits of the modified ride-on cars and determine how they can be optimally used. Anecdotally, first drives are filled with big grins, happy dancing, and engaged attention. But how do you capture that in research?  Her Masters project aims to understand how use of the modified ride-on cars relate to tangible outcomes like onset of independent driving and independent walking. This intervention is unique in that researchers incorporated elements of physical therapy within the vehicles to sneakily have children practice motor skills. If you want children to practice standing, you have to incentivize that movement. By wiring a negative activation switch in the seat, the child must stand up in the car to move forward. When they sit down, the car stops moving. Therefore, the children practice pulling to stand and maintaining balance, physical therapy exercises that would be very difficult to get children to do without that positive incentive of freedom of movement provided by the car. Christina’s thesis focuses on a year-long progressive modified ride-on car intervention for infants with Down syndrome that utilizes the seated cars as well as this more advanced sit-to-stand version to encourage exploration and motor skill development. We will discuss her findings, which suggest that children who spent more time with the vehicles and were more consistent with usage potentially had better motor outcomes.

Adapted Physical Activity graduate students (from left to right: Michele Catena, Samantha Ross, and Christina Hospodar) presenting research from the Social Mobility Lab at the 2017 Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Conference in Austin, Texas.

As I write this on a sunny afternoon sitting on a bench overlooking the MU quad, there are seniors taking graduation photos and families meandering through the courtyard. One family walks by the pair of 120-feet tall incense cedar trees. The little sister walks off the pavement and onto the grass, tracing the perimeter of the wide droopy branches. She stops. Looks up and down in awe, wonder, and amazement. Maybe she’ll be a forester someday, perhaps a botanist, or maybe an ornithologist with all the noisy bird conversations happening way up high in the canopy. But in a snap, her parents turn around and wave her to return. She sprints back towards the group. Because of her ability to freely explore her environment, life has left her with a new seed of curiosity. This embodies the spirit of Go Baby Go, where self-directed mobility is a fundamental human right.

Be sure to listen to the interview on Sunday May 13th at 7PM on KBVR 88.7 Corvallis or you can listen live online. Christina is nice enough to do the interview the day before her defense so if you’re interested you can see her research talk on Monday May 14 at 2 PM in  Hallie Ford Center room 115. In the fall Christina will be moving onto a PhD program at NYU in the Cognition and Perception program within the Psychology Department. There, she will study infant motor development under the direction of Dr. Karen Adolph.

If you want to find out more about the Go Baby Go program, you can look at Oregon State’s Chapter page, the greater Oregon Facebook page, and the national website to look for contacts or access to local sites around the US.

Get out and Play with Friends!

As the Rio Olympics gets underway we are reminded just how far a human being can push their body to shave off ¼ second, or jump the extra inch; we tend to envision exercise for purely physical benefits such as burning calories, bigger muscles, and a stronger heart. Think about how much more enjoyable it is to play basketball with friends or run with a buddy instead of trudging through mile after mile by yourself.

Our guest this evening sees the physical benefits of exercising, but wants to remind us of social bonding and psychological well-being that can be produced from exercising with a group of people. Jafra Thomas is a Ph.D. student in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences focusing on how health should be viewed as a social phenomenon, instead of purely an anatomical process. Not only is Jafra interested in the effects of exercise on the individual, but also how these activities can strengthen the social fabric with our peers, how values can develop from these experiences, and how this can promote a positive personal identity.

Think back to your (probably very awkward) early high school days, some may have been on the dance team, band group, or some other sports team. Your very first practice was really scary because you were not physically ready and you’re surrounded by lots of new people you don’t know! Fast-forward to the end of high school you realize what you learned about team-bonding, inclusion, perseverance, and hopefully developed a life-long personal identity through those long and grueling practices.

Jafra Thomas is currently a PhD student in the College of Health and Human Sciences

Jafra Thomas is currently a PhD student in the College of Health and Human Sciences

While going through his undergraduate degree at the University of Pacific in California, Jafra spearheaded a program to encourage community members of diverse backgrounds to participate on a rowing team. This rowing program helped the participants overcome some of the many barriers that often limit participation in these unique sports. The program made sure to provide equally accessible events and create an inclusive environment so kids can learn more about themselves and others. This is the kind of healthy development we should be promoting in tandem with the physical benefits of exercising.

Jafra has already received some prestigious awards, and in the future plans to become university professor who hopes to strike a balance between research, teaching and service. In the mean time, he’s keeping himself busy by being a part of the Black Graduate Students Association (BGSA), Graduate Certificate in College and University Teaching Program (GCCUTP), and recently got back into rowing through the Corvallis Rowing Club.

Tune in Sunday, August 7th at 7PM PDT on KBVR, 88.7 FM or stream live at http://www.orangemedianetwork.com/kbvr_fm/ to hear Jafra’s story.