October 2015   

Message from the Dean

The 2015/2016 school year has gotten off to a wonderful start.  Since welcoming the incoming freshman class to the School in September, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a few of the students better at this quarters Donuts with the Dean, and the All-University Leadership Conference.  I am extremely impressed by the talent of our undergraduates an encourage more of you to take on leadership roles during your time here at UCI.

With this year marking the 50th anniversary of UCI, the University has hosted several major events both entertaining and educational to celebrate our golden anniversary.  On Saturday, October 3, the University hosted The Festival of Discovery.  The festival was comprised of a daylong celebration in Aldrich Park, which began with a family friendly 5K run.  The remainder of the festival was filled with, science, art, food, and entertainment.  The Ayala School had several booths highlighting the quality research that goes on in the School, as well as providing our community guest with vital information regarding their health and overall wellbeing.

Before concluding, I would like to give special thanks to the entire staff at the Ayala School for their tireless work during the transition to the new school year. In addition, it is my pleasure to welcome five new faculty members to the Ayala School. These new faculty members will help to elevate the research footprint of the School through their expertise and experience.  You can read about them and their impressive research in a later section of this newsletter.


News and Highlights

New Faculty for the 2015-16 School Year
The Ayala School is excited to welcome four new faculty members.  The new faculty will add their expertise to our already highly ranked Biological Sciences departments, and   provide new professional development avenues for Ayala School graduate students to embark upon.  You can read more about these dynamic individuals by following the link. Read more.
NIH Awards $19 Million to Institute for Clinical & Translational Science
UC Irvine is renowned for its exceptional research in the life sciences.  With the establishment of the UC Irvine Institute for Clinical & Translational Science (ICTS), the University has made additional strides in translating its successes in the lab to advancing discoveries in clinical care.  In recognition of this success, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recently awarded UC Irvine ICTS a $19 million dollar grant to continue transforming innovative discoveries into potential clinical therapeutics.  Read more.

Rose Hill Scholars

The Rose Hills Foundation has contributed substantially to educational institutions in California in support of science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) undergraduate development.  In 2014, UCI was awarded $700,000 from The Rose Hills Foundation to support the career development of it’s STEM students.  Read more.

UCI 50th Anniversary Festival of Discovery
On October 3, 2015, UCI had its first ever Festival of Discovery in Aldrich Park.  The event was open to students, faculty, alumni, and community members to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the University's opening.  Over 10,000 people attended the festival, with all the University's Schools, athletic program, and many centers and institutions also represented.  The daylong event started with a 5K family run, after witch, on hand attendees were treated with a host of fun and educational activities to experience.  The Ayala School had several interesting exhibits that demonstrated the exceptional research being conducted at our School. Read more.
"What Matters to Me and Why" Feat. Professor James McGaugh

On October 14, 2015, the “What Matters to Me and Why” Lecture
series began the 2015-2016 school year with a Lecture featuring Ayala 
School Professor James McGaugh.  The “What Matters to Me and Why” series encourages reflection about the values, beliefs, and motivations in the lives of those who shape our university.  With the series kicking off in the same month as UCI’s official 50th anniversary celebration, the series coordinators thought it fitting to have one of the Universities founding faculty members. Read more.

Ayala School Professors Arthur Lander and Anne Calof Awarded $2.1 Million Grant from the National Institute of Health

Professor Arthur Lander, M.D., Ph.D. is a Donald Bren Professor in the department of Developmental and Cell Biology, and the director of the Center for Complex Biological Systems. Professor Anne Calof, Ph.D. is a professor in the departments of Anatomy and Neurobiology, and Developmental and Cell Biology. Together with Professor Qing Nie in the department of Mathematics, Professors Lander and Calof received a new RO1 grant entitled, “Spatial Dynamics of Tissue and Organ Size Control”, funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.  Read more.

Ayala School Professor receives prestigious award from The Dana Foundation
Professor Craig Stark, Neurobiology & Behavior, was recently awarded a $300,000 grant to support a project entitled “The Enrichment of neurogenesis in the hippocampus via the environment.”  The goal of the project will be to determine if environmental enrichment, through 3D video games and/or a real world exploration experience, can ameliorate the hippocampal dependent cognitive deficits present in older populations.  Read more.

Neurobiology & Behavior Graduate Student Wins ARCS Award

Mrs. Allison Najafi is one of this year’s recipients of the Achievement Rewards For College Scientists (ARCS) for graduate students.  The ARCS scholar award is intended to provide additional financial support for exceptional graduate students from qualifying institutions. Read more.

Donuts with the Dean, Fall 2015
To help kick off the start of the 2015-2016 school year, Dean Frank LaFerla held another Donuts with the Dean event on October 8 outside the Dean’s office in Natural Sciences II. Joining Dean LaFerla, and a host of Ayala School undergraduates, was Dr. William Loudon, Section Chief for Pediatric Neurosurgery at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC). Read more.
Ayala School Professor Gives insight into Tesla’s Model X Bioweapon ready air conditioning system

To determine how effective Tesla’s bioweapon defense mode might be, news site Gizmodo interviewed Professor Michael J. Buchmeier, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. Read more.

Professor Leslie M. Thompson discusses her progress towards a new treatment for Huntington's Disease
Held in the Crystal Cove Auditorium in the UCI Student Center, Professor Leslie M. Thompson’s lecture covered the recent work her laboratory has done on developing novel ways to treat Huntington’s Disease (HD). Read more.

Research in the News

Better Ways to Manage Urban Stormwater Runoff
In a recent study published in the journal of Environmental Science & Technology, featured in Science Daily, Professor Peter Bowler, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and director of the school’s arboretum, along with his colleagues from three UC campuses (UCI, UCLA and UC San Diego) and Australia's University of Melbourne; water managers from Orange County Public Works; and engineers from consulting firm Michael Baker International, laid out a plan of innovative solutions for urban population centers to fulfill their water needs, and protect natural stream ecosystems. Read more.

Neuron Transplants May One Day Reverse Blindness
UC Irvine neurobiologist Professor Sunil Gandhi and his colleagues were recently featured in a Scientific American article that highlighted their work investigating the flexibility of the adult brain.  In a groundbreaking study published earlier this year, Professor Sunil and his team successfully reactivated brain plasticity in adult mice using stem cell transplantation. You can read the article in its entirety here.

What Can the "Oldest Old" Tell Us

Professor Claudia Kawas has been working on a groundbreaking longitudinal study involving people over the age of 90 since 2003.  The study, known as the 90-plus study, follows over 1,600 people older than 90 living in Leisure World in Laguna Woods California.  Recent work from the study was featured on 60 minutes Australia.  In the feature, Professor Kawas presented some interesting facts, including how moderate alcohol consumption was associated with living longer, and that being too thin does not help you live longer.  To watch the entire 60-minute segments, click here.
Stem cell treatment lessens impairments caused by dementia with Lewy bodies
Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s share a common feature characterized by the buildup of proteins in and around brain cells. Once accumulated, the proteins can impair normal brain cell function leading to the collection of clinical symptoms known as dementia. Using a mouse model of Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), the second-most common type of age-related dementia after Alzheimer’s disease, Professor Mathew Blurton-Jones and doctoral student Natalie Goldberg recently tested the hypothesis that stem cell transplantation could overcome the clinical symptoms of DLB. Read more.


Calling all Bio students! Send us your selfie representing the Ayala School with pride in a lab, out with friends, where you study, etc. and you could be featured in our next newsletter! Send photos to or tag the Ayala School page on Facebook #ayalaschool.


Find out how you can help other students today by contacting Andrew DiNuzzo at or visiting Make a gift to the Ayala School here.


Richelle Roelandt Lu Homo
Ayala School Senior
Richelle Roelandt Lu Homo is a fourth year Campus Wide Honors student double majoring in Biological Sciences and Chemistry. She is a UCI Alumni Association Endowed Scholar, a recipient of the Rose Hills Foundation Scholarship, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Read more.


Kristen L. Caplin
Personnel Director

Kristen has been with UC for over 15 years and with the Ayala School for over 9 years. Prior to joining UCI, she was a member of the administrative staff at UC Berkeley.  In her role as personnel director, Kristen oversees all academic and staff personnel and payroll function in the Ayala School and serves on various personnel related committees on campus. Read more.


Kevin Liang
Class of '01, '07

Ayala School Alumnus, Kevin Liang, completed both his undergraduate (2001) and doctoral degree (2007) at UC Irvine before pursuing a career in healthcare innovation.  Dr. Liang was part of the first class of undergraduate Neurobiology majors at the Ayala School, and subsequently earned a Ph.D. from the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior.  Since graduating from UC Irvine, Kevin has founded/co-founded three companies, including MileStone Research Organization (a boutique medical device and pharmaceutical consulting firm), Cortex LabCoats (a designer healthcare apparel company) and Ceresti Health (a technology-enabled population health company focused on dementia care). Read more

Dean’s Leadership Councilwoman Recognized 

Dr. Jacqueline Dupont is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Dupont Residential Care, Inc., Assured InHome Care, Inc., and former owner of Assured Horizons, LLC.  Since 2014, she has sat on the Dean’s Leadership Council at the Ayala School.  On October 17, 2015, Dr. Dupont was awarded the Humanitarian award by SeniorServ, at the Senior Care Hero Awards ceremony.  SeniorServ is the largest nonprofit agency for older adults in California focusing on providing a safety net for its users.  The goal of the organization is to ensure sustainability to meet the growing demand for senior services in the state. Read more.


50th Anniversary Academic Symposia