UC San Diego: Evenings of Nonconventional Wisdom Series to Showcase Expertise of Campus Community

As part of the yearlong celebration of its 60th anniversary, the University of California San Diego will showcase the expertise of its award-winning faculty and acclaimed researchers with a virtual event series entitled “Evenings of Nonconventional Wisdom.”

Beginning this month, UC San Diego will present five free, online events where attendees can learn about and be inspired by the latest insights from the university community. Each virtual event will highlight the institution’s ongoing contributions to the most pressing issues of our time and feature interactive presentations by faculty, leadership, alumni and more. Attendees can expect to hear unique perspectives and insights from expert panelists as they take a deep dive into a variety of thought-provoking topics ranging from climate change to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Since its founding in 1960, UC San Diego’s forward-thinking vision has helped cultivate a history of being among the most innovative, pioneering universities in the world. Today, it is this same forward-thinking vision that empowers its outstanding faculty, students, staff and alumni to drive positive impacts in fields ranging from health to social science. In San Diego and around the world, members of UC San Diego’s community are actively channeling their attention, talents and research prowess to define a better future for all.

“Each year, we recognize the founding of this remarkable university and celebrate its impressive rise to prominence by highlighting some of the cutting-edge work of our faculty,” said Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “This year, virtual conversations with UC San Diego’s industry experts and acclaimed thought leaders will demonstrate how our campus community is continually working towards better, more equitable solutions to society’s most challenging issues through teaching, basic and applied research, and brilliant innovations.”

The first virtual event in the “Evenings of Nonconventional Wisdom” series will take place on Feb. 22 and is entitled “The Fear Factor: Examining Mistrust and Vaccines.” The event will begin at 5 p.m. and offer a live conversation with four panelists who will share their expert perspectives related to current COVID-19 vaccines and their underlying historical, cultural and social contexts.

The event will include welcome remarks by Chancellor Khosla and Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences David Brenner, followed by introductory presentations from Professor of Medicine Davey Smith and Professor of Pediatrics and Pharmacy Victor Nizet. The live panel conversation will be moderated by Cheryl Anderson, professor and founding dean of The Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego.

To join the “The Fear Factor: Examining Mistrust and Vaccines” event, please register here. The “Evenings of Nonconventional Wisdom” virtual events are all free to attend and open to the public. To learn more about the “Evenings of Nonconventional Wisdom,” its upcoming event themes and other anniversary initiatives, please visit the 60th Anniversary website.

Below each panelist slated for the upcoming virtual conversation provides a look into his or her background and gives a sneak peek at what attendees can look forward to on Feb. 22:

Keolu Fox, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology
Tell us a bit about your background and the impact of your work?

Keolu Fox
As the son of a Native Hawaiian mother and the grandson of Holocaust survivors, my family history guides my practice as a genome scientist and advocate for technologies that empower Indigenous communities.

I’m the first Native Hawaiian to receive a Ph.D. in genome sciences, and am currently an assistant professor at the University of California San Diego, affiliated with the Department of Anthropology, the Global Health Program, the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute, the Climate Action Lab, the Design Lab and the Indigenous Futures Lab.

My work focuses on the connection between raw data as a resource and the emerging value of genomic health data from Indigenous communities. I have experience designing and engineering genome sequencing and editing technologies and a decade of grassroots experience working with Indigenous partners to advance precision medicine. I received my doctorate in genome sciences from the University of Washington.

If you could share one of your biggest takeaways surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and/or the ongoing conversations around the vaccine, what would it be?

When assessing the costs and benefits of COVID-19 clinical trial participation, researchers and communities must also recognize that SARS-CoV-2 is the first pandemic in the era of big data; it is leading to the largest biological data collection haul in history. While government programs like the National Institutes of Health’s “All of Us” initiative are not profit driven, they are involved in collecting unprecedented amounts of genetic information. All of this is happening in a context of loosening ethical norms and heightened economic precarity. Under Operation Warp Speed, the FDA has relaxed its standards for lab-developed tests and Emergency Use Authorization Institutional Review Boards are being bypassed. In the process of swabbing people’s nasal cavities during COVID-19 diagnostic tests, methods like “SwabSeq” generate genome sequence data.

While this wealth of data is revolutionary for drug or vaccine development, it can be misused. For example, Vertex Pharmaceuticals obtained genome sequence data from cystic fibrosis (CF) patients, developed a targeted drug, and then offered the drug back to CF patients for $300,000 per patient, per year.

Danielle Raudenbush, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
Tell us a bit about your background and the impact of your work?

Danielle Raudenbush
I received a B.A. from Vassar College and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. A goal of my research is to understand how the U.S. healthcare system functions, in practice, for disadvantaged groups. I published a book in 2020 that examines healthcare among low-income African Americans and explains how the healthcare experiences of study participants are different from common conceptions. For them, healthcare involves getting care through facilities like public hospitals and community health clinics, but also involves informally obtaining resources like medication, medical equipment, and insurance cards through their social ties to community members and local physicians.

I am currently examining healthcare among Mexican immigrants in San Diego—my project shows how study participants strategically combine health services in the U.S. and Mexico in a way that gives them greater control over their care but also carries risks. By understanding the full scope of people’s healthcare experiences, we can better devise policies for addressing health inequalities.

If you could share one of your biggest takeaways surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and/or the ongoing conversations around the vaccine, what would it be?

If there’s any silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that government officials and the public have gained awareness of racial health disparities. Such disparities are longstanding in the U.S. and the current inequalities we see in, for instance, infection rates of the coronavirus, are only a recent manifestation. This is similarly true for the issue of mistrust among minorities in regard to the COVID-19 vaccine. Historically, we see that mistrust towards the healthcare system has existed for many decades, if not longer, for groups like African Americans. My hope is that moving forward there will be a sustained focus on addressing the health and healthcare experiences of minorities.

Dr. Victor Nizet, Professor, UC San Diego School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Tell us a bit about your background and the impact of your work?

Dr. Victor Nizet
I am a pediatrician and scientist specializing in infectious diseases, microbiology and immunology. I received my medical training at Stanford University School of Medicine. Over more than two decades at UC San Diego, I have led a large, collaborative and highly interdisciplinary research laboratory developing innovative approaches to prevent or treat difficult infections. Some of our current projects include developing a vaccine to prevent strep infections, finding ways to boost immune cell function in clearing bacteria, and using nanotechnology to prevent organ damage in sepsis.

Recently, we have focused considerable attention on the expanding global crisis of antibiotic resistance, and we have launched a campus-wide educational and research initiative known as the Collaborative to Halt Antibiotic-Resistant Microbes, or CHARM. Personally, I am very committed to the mentorship of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty in science and medicine, hoping to create the next generation of leaders in solving the important infectious disease challenges facing the world.

If you could share one of your biggest takeaways surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and/or the ongoing conversations around the vaccine, what would it be?

An infectious disease pandemic is a unique shared experience threatening global health and economic welfare. For this reason, it demands a unity of purpose for a successful resolution. However, natural anxiety and fear can be compounded or exploited by political forces, various self-interests and lack of clear communication (or active disinformation) to thwart public health objectives. Medical history is being written by COVID-19 and we must take the scientific successes—such as the rapid development of effective vaccines with unprecedented (mRNA) technology—with concrete plans for public engagement to better prevent the horrific toll the disease exerts on vulnerable populations.

Dr. David “Davey” Smith, Head of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health
Tell us a bit about your background and the impact of your work?

Dr. Davey Smith
I am an infectious disease specialist and translational research virologist. In my translational research, I use basic science techniques to answer clinically relevant questions. Since the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 in 2019, I have been actively engaged in the international effort to find safe and effective treatments. In particular, I am the international protocol chair for the ACTIV-2 treatment study, which is a part of the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed. This study is designed to find effective therapies for persons with early COVID-19.

I completed my internship, residency and chief residency in Internal Medicine at UC San Diego and stayed to complete a fellowship in Infectious Diseases. I went on to join the UC San Diego faculty in 2003 and was promoted to full professor in 2012. In 2017, I was promoted to Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health at UC San Diego.

If you could share one of your biggest takeaways surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and/or the ongoing conversations around the vaccine, what would it be?
As an infectious disease expert, I always knew that infectious diseases can hurt anyone, but I also knew that marginalized communities bear the largest burden of infectious diseases, like HIV, Hepatitis C, Tuberculosis—and COVID-19 has been no exception. If anything, COVID-19 has laid bare the enormous health disparities that exist in the U.S. Thus, for all our sakes, we need to eliminate health disparities. We can start by the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

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