Zara Abrams

I'm a Los Angeles-based science writer with a M.A. in journalism and a B.A. in neuroscience from USC. I mostly cover health, nutrition, fitness and the environment, but I'll take on almost any topic. I also enjoy fitness, dogs, live music, and Cardinals baseball.

Big data study at USC to investigate link between gender and Alzheimer’s risk

Twice as many women as men develop Alzheimer’s disease, but even after years of research, aging experts are unsure why. Judy Pa, assistant professor of neurology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, will lead a big data study focused on the link between gender and Alzheimer’s risk. “We believe there are distinct biological reasons for why women are at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease — reasons that can be probed and discovered from data that already exist,” said Pa, who is based at the U

Brain cell study at USC gets $19 million National Institutes of Health grant

The USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute at the Keck School of Medicine of USC has received $19 million to help create a classification system for cells in the brain. Led by Hong-Wei Dong, associate professor of neurology, the team will join the BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network consortium, a five-year multisite collaboration funded by the BRAIN Initiative. Launched in 2013 by former President Barack Obama, the BRAIN Initiative is a public-private partnership led

Salton Sea communities "no longer a good place to live" for those with respiratory issues

Nancy Johnson has lived near the Salton Sea her entire life. Her grandparents originally moved to the area at the behest of their doctors, who said the hot, dry desert was the perfect antidote for their emphysema. Now, as the principal of Westmorland Union Elementary School, Johnson faces an entirely different set of circumstances. She’s responsible for 380 of Imperial County’s most vulnerable residents — children between the ages of 5 and 11 — and 17 percent of her student body has asthma. The

From Soldier to Philanthropist with a Single Pill

How an unconventional new treatment helped an Iraq veteran conquer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and start a new life "There's no way I'm going to sustain living like this." The 15 months he spent fighting as a Sergeant of the U.S. Army in Iraq left him in a state of constant vigilance—he couldn’t shake the feeling that he might come under attack at any moment. Macie saw several friends die in the line of duty. He was the first responder when a truck bomb struck his platoon near Baghdad, a gr

USC seeks a better understanding of Alzheimer’s among Latinos

USC is taking part in a collaborative project that aims to gain a better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease among Latinos, who account for nearly 18 percent of the U.S. population, according to U.S. Census figures. A recent review estimated that only 3 percent of Alzheimer’s disease studies include Latinos in their analyses. To help change that, the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute at the Keck School of Medicine of USC is teaming up with researchers from the Un

New job, heady assignment: Trojan volunteers to have her brain examined

When I started my first job after graduate school, I knew I’d face a few new situations. But I hardly expected to find myself strapped to a table inside a massive magnet. Luckily, I was supervised by a team of experts when I entered the 7T Terra Magnetic Resonance Imaging brain scanner, which was installed at the USC Mary and Mark Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute in February. The scanner, the first of its kind in North America, contains a magnet so powerful it’s considered “ultra

IsraAID—and Jewish values—on the ground in global refugee crisis

Thessaloniki, Greece — What’s a nice Jewish girl doing working with Muslim refugees in an overwhelmingly Christian country? As the North Greece Head of Mission for IsraAID, Liat Rennert has been running the Israeli NGO’s operations out of Thessaloniki for the past three months. In Greece, secular, faith-based and interfaith groups have set aside their differences and joined forces to meet the basic needs of refugees. But Israelis and Jews, because of their history and ethics, can often add a di

Climate Characters: Evangelical communicates science without evangelizing.

Atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe works mostly with a referent group that she's belonged to her entire life: evangelical Christians. Soft-spoken and patient, she knows how important it is to establish personal connections with her audiences. In her role as director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, she speaks to religious groups, farmers and university administrators about climate change. She never gives the same speech twice, because every group has a unique set of v

Climate characters: A traitor to one tribe, welcomed into another.

It doesn’t take a PhD. in meteorology to see the climate in a different light. For former Congressman Bob Inglis, who for 12 years represented the 4th Congressional District of South Carolina (what he calls “the reddest district in the reddest state in the nation”), all it took was the right messenger. Inglis once called climate change “a figment of Al Gore’s imagination.” But less than a decade later, he betrayed his referent group—or, in his words, his tribe—also known as the Republican Part

Climate Characters: Skeptical engineer questions government motives.

As an engineer working in the defense industry, John Albright has designed everything from body armor for the U.S. Marines to solar energy plants in Southern California’s Mojave Desert. Like Casey, both Albright’s career and his upbringing led him to doubt the authority and motives of experts. Specifically, he thinks leading climate researchers and government officials exaggerate the human contribution to global warming in a grab for more money and power. Albright, whose name has been changed

Climate Characters: Meteorologist stopped doubting when he couldn’t disprove.

Editor's note: Climate Characters follows five people with varied views on climate change with the goal of bringing a greater degree of compassion and understanding to the highly polarized conversation. Josh Kastman also changed his mind about climate change in an unexpected way. Now a mid-range forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Prediction Center, he had completed four years of meteorological training when he entered graduate school at the University of

Climate Characters: Martial artist dodges punches and climate change warnings.

Editor's note: Climate Characters follows five people with varied views on climate change with the goal of bringing a greater degree of compassion and understanding to the highly polarized conversation. Tucked into the far corner of BRICK CrossFit in West Hollywood is a padded 15-by-20-foot room where the main activity is punching. One hundred-pound heavy bags line the walls, swaying several inches above the ground, ready to take a hit. Gloves, mitts, hand wraps, dumbbells and a first aid kit s

A Greek Rock Star's Message to Humanity

Thessaloniki, Greece – When Nikos Dimitriadis bought tickets to see English rock band The James in the summer of 2005, he thought he would just be an ordinary member of the crowd. He was in London celebrating the completion of his Ph.D. in Theology, which he had received the previous month from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. But Dimitriadis, now 40 years old, is by no means a standard rock star. On top of singing, he teaches World Religions at the American College of Thessaloniki, he

Alumnus Shines as Systems Engineer and Social Activist

Augustine Esogbue, Ph.D. ISE ’68, reflects on his career and his time at USC Augustine Esogbue may have started his engineering career as an intellectual pursuit, but he has since become a force for social change.  In 1968, Esogbue became the world’s first black Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering. Now, he’s a professor emeritus in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Esogbue has used the influence he gained from a dynamic

Greek Orthodoxy is losing its grip on the next generation

State of the Church: Greek Orthodoxy is losing its grip on the next generation State of the Church: Greek Orthodoxy is losing its grip on the next generation A Greek flag hangs from the roof of a small church overlooking Athens. (Photo by Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons) ATHENS — Though it has long been known as Europe’s most religious country, Greece is changing. “Most of the people my age you’ll talk to aren’t religious,” said George Katsaounis, a 23-year-old Athenian native. “Our paren

Is Physical Fitness Contagious?

Researcher Greg Ver Steeg partnered with Evidation Health and Google to investigate how online friends can make you fit Online social networks have become key tools in the daily existence of most Americans: we use Twitter to get updates on breaking news, LinkedIn to search for job opportunities and Facebook to reconnect with old friends. But what if social networks could help with something fundamental to human health: our physical fitness? That’s what Greg Ver Steeg, a research assistant prof

Ten-Year-Olds Tackle Biomedical Engineering

The Project in a Box initiative brings hands-on biomedical engineering lessons to local elementary schools On a chilly Friday morning in February, Mr. Montgomery’s fifth graders at Quincy Jones Elementary School started their day by learning how to build prosthetic arms. Guided by USC student volunteers from the Associated Students of Biomedical Engineering (ASBME), the children were some of the first beneficiaries of the organization’s new STEM outreach program for local schools. The initiati

Re-creating the sounds of an ancient Greek church in LA

LOS ANGELES (RNS) The sound reverberates through the space, immersing hundreds of spellbound listeners. Eyes fall closed, heads bow in prayer and fidgety limbs come to rest. The crowd is lost in a Byzantine soundscape as five singers chant the Akathistos hymn, an Orthodox liturgical chant composed in the sixth century. But as they sit in a gym on Normandie Avenue in Central LA, the audience is not only hearing the singers. They are also hearing the sounds of Agia Sophia, one of the oldest chur
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