Alien sands

Researchers at the University of Arizona found that sand dunes on Mars are controlled by different natural forces than on Earth. 

With a major research university right in our backyard, a strong military presence and innovative companies throughout the metro region, there’s often a plethora of interesting science and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting recent developments.

Which vape flavors are the most harmful? Researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine are using stem cells to investigate the relationship between e-cigarette liquids and cardiovascular disease. Their study discovered flavored e-liquids can damage endothelial cells, the thin layer of cells lining the interior surface of blood vessels. Researchers used stem cell-derived endothelial cells and a screening approach to “assess endothelial integrity following exposure to six different e-liquids with varying nicotine concentrations and blood collected from e-cigarette users.” The results found “exposure to flavored e-liquids or e-cigarettes worsens endothelial dysfunction, which often precedes cardiovascular diseases.” The researchers also discovered different e-cigarette liquids affected the endothelial cells differently. The most toxic flavors were cinnamon and menthol. Researchers believe these flavors are more toxic because of the chemicals used to make those flavorings. 

In Vitro Cancer Detection. Healthcare company Roche, with a division in Oro Valley, recently released their “Rabbit Monoclonal Primary Antibody,” the first and only in vitro diagnostic immunohistochemistry assay. The test detects the presence of ROS1 protein in tissue, and may be useful in identifying ROS1-positive lung cancer cases. This biomarker may provide “a cost-effective and efficient means to initially identify elevated ROS1 protein expression in cancer.” According to Jill German, Head of Roche Tissue Diagnostics, “Our highly sensitive ROS1 test is the first in vitro diagnostic IHC available for recommended lung cancer testing guidelines, with the added benefit of rapid turnaround time.”

Alien Sands, Alien Shifts. A team of planetary scientists, led by UA associate staff scientist Matthew Chojnacki, are examining the how sand moves on Mars. The Martian dunes observed in this study moved an average of two feet per Earth year, whereas sand dunes on Earth can migrate 100 feet per year. The researchers discovered that “processes not involved in controlling sand movement on Earth play major roles on Mars, especially large-scale features on the landscape and differences in landform surface temperature.” The study’s most surprising find was that the largest Martian sand movements in terms of volume and speed are restricted to three distinct regions. All three areas are unique from other parts of Mars by conditions not known to affect dunes on Earth: rough topography and surface temperatures.

Pima County Helping Residents Kick the Butt. On Monday, May 27, the Pima County Health Department partnered with The Monday Campaign and Arizona Smokers Helpline to provide a new strategy for Pima County which will provide extra support to people ready to quit smoking. The project is called “Quit & Stay Quit Monday,” and provides smokers with a definite plan and local resources to quit smoking. For more information, visit

Predicting Adverse Reactions to Heparin. Dr. Jason Karnes, assistant professor in the UA College of Pharmacy, received a five-year, $769,000 career development award from the National Institutes of Health to predict when patients may have adverse reactions to the anticoagulant medication heparin. Each year, as many as 12 million hospital patients are prescribed the blood-thinner heparin. But upwards of 2.4 percent of those patients develop an adverse reaction to the drug, known as heparin-induced thrombocytopenia, which has a greater than 30 percent mortality rate. In response, Karnes and his team are predicting which patients will have adverse reaction to the drug by examining DNA samples from more than 5,000 international patients. The goal is to identify the genetic predictors of those individuals who have experienced HIT.