Here We Grow Healthy: Ky’lexius Gwynn of Guilford College Uses Gardening for the Good of All

For Ky’lexius Gwynn, a senior education major at Guilford College, April 2022 started out on a high note. Then things went tragically downhill fast. And like so many college students living through this troubled era, the young changemaker from Reidsville, N.C., had to learn to cope—and to prevail.

The high note was the Sullivan Foundation’s Spring Ignite Retreat, held April 1-3 in Staunton, Va. There, Gwynn won second place and $200 in a pitch competition for her project called Here We Grow Healthy, an on-campus community garden to serve underprivileged communities in the Greensboro, N.C. region. As she made her pitch to her fellow retreat attendees, Gwynn felt truly seen and heard—and motivated to move forward with her plans. She met new friends and potential collaborators. And she returned home with renewed faith in her own changemaking gifts.

Then, just a few weeks later, on April 25, she lost a dear friend and fellow nature lover, Ahmad Brewington. His death made her question everything and plunged her into depression.

Months later, thanks to support from her mother, her family and friends, as well as a campus mental health counselor, the painful loss has ultimately bolstered her resolve to make a difference—and to honor her late friend—with the Here We Grow Healthy project. Now, she said, she’s committed to approaching farming as “my form of activism because it’s a tool for liberation.”

A Passion for Food
Gwynn has always had a passion for food. When she was a child, she loved her kitchen play sets. “My mom used to play ‘restaurant’ with me all of the time, and I even went to career day dressed as a tiny chef, proclaiming to be the ‘First Youngest Professional Chef in the World.’ Then they came out with ‘MasterChef Junior’ [on Fox]. Mom is also a baker and has taught me how to make a meal out of almost anything around me.”

As a student at Reidsville High School, Gwynn took part in another pitch competition and wrote a grant proposal to buy a greenhouse for the campus. Her team won, but once the greenhouse was purchased, the project stalled. “Because no one else was actually interested in gardening and taking on the responsibility, I wasn’t able to get it built and going before I graduated,” she recalled.

But her love of food and cooking never waned. “Not only do I cook to eat, I cook with passion as a way of bringing the community together,” she said. “Some of my favorite childhood memories were at family cookouts or baking in the kitchen with my grandmother.”

Related: Ignite Retreat attendee Hebron Mekuria develops business plan to bring children’s books to her native Ethiopia

Gwynn grew up shopping at “the average grocery stores” like Food Lion and Lowes Foods. Then she discovered Whole Foods, Sprouts and The Fresh Market. Their meats and produce were fresher and higher in quality—albeit more expensive. “It took me being in college, having to buy my own groceries for me, to realize that there could be a higher quality of food than I had been eating. Not only had I been buying higher-quality produce, I learned about the farm on my college’s campus and how they provided the majority of the vegetables we eat in our cafeteria.”

Instead of buying veggies from the big-box retailers and distributors, Guilford College, Gwynn realized, “could just have our farmer drive it over to the cafeteria in his golf cart.”

“I fell in love with this idea of ‘farm-to-table’ and decided to commit to working with the farm on my campus,” she said. “Through working with them, I learned that they not only provide food to our campus, but they also have a CSA [community sustained agriculture] program and donate to local immigrant and refugee communities for free!”

After wrapping up her minor in community studies, Gwynn was inspired by Guilford’s farm to add a second minor: sustainable food systems. “The majority of the community service that I do now is food-related,” she said.

Ky’lexius Gwynn spent this summer working as an intern at the PDY&F Community Garden in Greensboro, N.C.

Gardening for Mental Health
As an advocate for food security, Gwynn saw that Guilford College’s farm fulfills a need for both the campus and the community. But what if she could help her fellow students—and local people in need—work together, dig their hands into the dirt and grow their own food? “I had been thinking about starting a community garden for years, but it wasn’t until I was at the Ignite Retreat, surrounded by other innovative minds and being encouraged to speak about my idea, that I actually considered turning it into a real thing,” she recalled.

That’s when the seed for Here We Grow Healthy began to take root. Gwynn knew about an “overgrown area” on the Guilford campus that could be transformed into a functioning community garden. But, when Gwynn is finished, it will be more than that. It will also serve as both a sanctuary and a therapeutic workspace for her fellow students coping with mental health issues, an increasingly common problem on college campuses nationwide.

After Ahmad died, Gwynn sought help from Guilford’s counseling center. The counselor, she said, “gave me the space to vent and cope as we planted flowers during a mental health event dedicated to my friend.” When Gwynn mentioned that she wanted to create a memorial piece for Ahmad in the garden, the counselor told her about horticultural therapy—using gardening and plant-based activities to improve mental and physical health. “This is exactly how I would be able to get students involved with this [garden],” Gwynn said. “What better way?”

The spring semester was nearly over by that point, so Gwynn plans to launch her project in the fall. Meanwhile, she has been interning for the summer at the PDY&F Community Garden in Greensboro, “growing my knowledge of plant types, growing seasons, composting, food distribution and more. I’m more confident in my ability to take care of a garden, and I’ve seen firsthand how a green space can bring people of all walks of life together. The biggest steps that I will have to take next are getting the idea out there for people to be a part of and also finding a way to fund my idea.”

Along with well-known staples like snap peas, Gwynn wants to grow more exotic produce from around the globe.

Growing Culturally Appropriate Foods
Meanwhile, Gwynn continues working to clean up the area that will serve as her community garden. “We’re still in the very early stages, and it seems the more we uncover in the area, the more ideas we have about the space!” she said.

For one thing, she wants to focus on growing “culturally appropriate” foods. “So what I mean by [that] is simply a wider range of fruits and vegetables that come from around the globe instead of your typical red tomato, orange carrot, yellow corn, etc.” she said. “Since attending Guilford, I’ve discovered vegetables like Swiss chard, bok choy, African eggplant, purple potatoes and even purple carrots with yellow insides!”

Related: Shayla Roberts-Long: Using your power to create accountability for climate change

After all, students from around the world attend Guilford College, while Greensboro has become home to numerous refugees and immigrants. “Having food that is familiar to them may help them feel more at home or at least more settled in, knowing that someone cares about their culture,” Gwynn said. “Just because the food is free for them does not mean they shouldn’t have a say in what they eat.”

In her summer internship at PDY&F, Gwynn has learned how to grow produce that most Americans have never heard of, like gita yardlong beans and bitter melons. “On campus, I hope to grow things like callaloo, Chinese leeks, kabocha, ginger and different berry trees, but I also want to leave space for students’ ideas,” she said.

Ky’lexius Gwynn presents her idea for Here We Grow Healthy at the Spring 2022 Ignite Retreat.

Looking Toward the Future
Gwynn isn’t quite sure about her career plans right now, but she’s already closing in on one major goal: She will be the first in her family to earn a college degree. She’s thinking about applying for the FoodCorps program and the Peace Corps after graduating. “I’m very interested in how the body reacts to one’s diet and would love to find a program that teaches me how to help myself and others nourish and heal our bodies,” she said.

She said she might even launch her own nonprofit “that teaches underprivileged communities the importance of small-scale farming, food security and food health. But who knows? My degree is in education, so I would also love to work at a Montessori school at some point in my life.”

Gwynn has time to figure all that out. Meanwhile, Here We Grow Healthy will keep her busy when she’s not buried in the books. And she has the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat to thank for it.

“The Ignite Retreat really helped me to get serious about the idea,” she said. “I had to really think on the fly and push the idea of a community garden during the pitch contest to people I never met. It surprised me when people actually stood there listening to me, and it made me want to dive deeper into my passion for food security. I don’t usually have many people my age take my ideas seriously or try to support me, so, when I won second place in the pitching contest, I was totally surprised. People actually cared.”

“Being in a space with people who supported me and were equally passionate about their own ideas encouraged me to believe in myself,” Gwynn added. “The Ignite Retreat introduced me to new friends and potential collaborators in the future. Sometimes I lose faith in myself and get really overwhelmed because I have so many ideas, and it seems like I’m the only one around me thinking the way that I do. But being at the retreat, I met other people like me who are driven to reach their goals, no matter how big or how small. The experience gave me motivation, friends, smart ideas and the confidence to make Here We Grow Healthy a real thing.”

Hollins Student Representing India as a Global Teen Leader at Just Peace Summit

Charvi Gangwani, a biology major at Sullivan Foundation partner school Hollins University, is one of 34 young people representing 23 countries this month as the 2022 Three Dot Dash Global Teen Leaders (GTLs) selected by the We Are Family Foundation (WAFF).

The WAFF chose the GTLs based on their social-good innovations, organizations, projects, and promise for creating a more just, equitable and peaceful future.

In response to what she felt was a huge gap in mental health resources available to students in her home country of India, Gangwani cofounded The Amygdala, a global, student-led organization raising awareness about mental health issues, advocating for access to mental health services in schools, and helping adolescents achieve psychological resilience through education and resources. Jigyasa Jain and Nandini Bhachawat are listed as The Amygdala’s cofounders on the organization’s website.

Related: Two young social entrepreneurs in Germany have created a sustainable pizza box

Gangwani was still a high schooler when she founded The Amygdala in March 2020. She was facing adversities at home and felt there was a huge gap in mental health resources for India’s students. When COVID-19 forced the world into lockdown, she saw an even higher degree of fear, anxiety and depression among teens.

As the pandemic raged on, Gangwani and her classmates conducted a survey in the local community to determine whether other teenagers were dealing with emotional issues. Their findings, according to a bio of Gangwani, were “startling,” inspiring her to find a creative solution to spread awareness about mental health and de-stressing young minds. She named her organization The Amygdala in reference to the integrative center for emotional behavior in the human brain.

The Amygdala has since become an international movement. It’s comprised of psychological education and mental health workshops and webinars, a speaker series that connects mental health professionals to students, and a series that highlights the stories of young mental health advocates. To date, her group has led 74 sessions impacting more than 3,000 students worldwide, and their education guides have been used in 43 schools across India.

Gangwani also organized an online global discussion titled “Believing in Yourself Is the Key to Good Health.” It was offered to grade 11-12 students in Lebanon, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, the Republic of Korea, Nepal and the Philippines on UN Day, Oct. 24, 2020. At the grassroots level, she and her team organized in-house sessions related to students’ mental well-being for grades 6-10, with the sessions conducted by school counselors, city counselors and health officers from the Health Department of Madhya Pradesh, India. In 2021, she was nominated for an IWoman Global Award in the category of social work.

Related: This solar-powered, robotic beehive could help save the world’s honeybees

The 2022 GTLs will convene virtually from July 11-August 12 for WAFF’s Three Dot Dash Just Peace Summit. Collectively, the work of this year’s GTLs addresses all 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“I cannot wait to represent Hollins at the summit,” Gangwani said. “This would not have been possible without the unconditional support that I have received from Hollins’ faculty and my peers. Hollins’ innovative classes, such as ‘Social Media and Social Activism’ [taught by Associate Professor of Communication Studies Vladimir Bratic], greatly supported me in my endeavors and instilled in me the 21st century skills needed to succeed with my social enterprise.”

The WAFF is a not-for-profit organization co-founded by legendary musician Nile Rodgers. It’s dedicated to fostering a global family by creating programs that promote cultural diversity while nurturing and mentoring the vision, talents and ideas of young people who are positively changing the world.

“The world is in a very dangerous place—environmentally, economically, politically, combined with systemic inequality and injustice permeating throughout,” said Rodgers and WAFF cofounder Nancy Hunt in a statement. “We need global cooperation to effectively address these issues, and we need to look to our global youth for their ideas, solutions and actions to save our planet. They don’t believe in the word ‘no.’ They believe that anything is possible, and they act on it.”

This article has been edited and expanded from the original version appearing on the Hollins University website.

Free Online Program, “21 Days to Momentum,” Helps Young Changemakers Overcome Burnout

What’s the secret to pushing through—and overcoming—burn-out in troubled times? According to Taylor Garrett, a leadership coach for rising changemakers and the founder of Taylored Coaching, it all comes down to momentum powered by intentionality—taking the “unknowns” in your life and transforming them into possibilities for new growth.

Garrett’s new online program, “21 Days to Momentum,” is designed to help you “go from expanding your problems to intentionally expanding your growth.” The free series runs from July 18 through August 7 and features 21 experts, including Spud Marshall, the Sullivan Foundation’s director of student engagement and leader of the foundation’s twice-yearly Ignite Retreats for college changemakers.

Garrett said the program is aimed at “change agents who want to shift from living their problems to expanding their momentum towards their desires to grow in the change.” She added, “Right now, I believe it’s really important that people get to have more access to the tools and wisdom that energize up their vision rather than burn them out and depress them.”

The program will address a burning question that many young change leaders are currently wrestling with, Garrett notes: “How do we transform our deepest wounds/unconscious programming into our biggest assets so we can lifestyle ourselves into a momentum towards our vision?”

In her career as a leadership coach, Garrett has worked with universities like Leiden University in the Netherlands as well as the UN Refugee Agency and TRY Global.

“My own expertise is conflict transformation,” Garrett said, “and I keep seeing us change agents fall victim to overwhelming vicious cycles of self-exploitation, all for the sake of saving the world—I was one of them. Except the world doesn’t want to be saved, it wants to be transformedThat’s what ‘Momentum’ expands a space for: transformation.”

A high-power roster of speakers will guide program participants along in this journey of transformation. They include:

Spud Marshall, author of “Designing Creative Communities” and director of student engagement for the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation. A social entrepreneur and community builder, he is also the founder of My Creative Community, which supports groups in designing engaging experiences for their communities. He serves as a facilitator, coach and consultant alongside organizations such as the Sullivan Foundation, Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Teach for America, the American Planning Association, and Johnson & Johnson.

Dr. Amy Johnson, a psychologist, coach and author of books including “Being Human,” “The Little Book of Big Change: The No-Willpower Approach to Breaking Any Habit,” and “Just a Thought: A No-Willpower Approach to End Self-Doubt and Make Peace With Your Mind.” In 2017 she opened The Little School of Big Change, an online school that helps thousands of people find freedom from anxiety and habits and live a more peaceful life. She also shares her ”no-willpower” approach in her podcast, “Changeable,” and has been featured on “The Steve Harvey Show” and and in the Wall Street Journal and Self magazine.

Ben Azadi, the founder of Keto Kamp, a global brand bringing awareness to ancient healing strategies such as the keto diet and fasting. He is the author of “Keto Flex,” “The Perfect Health Booklet,” “The Intermittent Fasting Cheat Sheet” and “The Power of Sleep.” An expert on intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet, Azadi is known as “The Health Detective” because he investigates dysfunction and educates—rather than medicates—to bring the body back to normal function.

Carl Pullein, a productivity and time management coach who helps people put their time to better use and become more productive using the technology they carry with them every day. He has written three books on productivity and time management and coaches companies and individuals around the world through one-to-one coaching programs and his Time and Life Mastery and Your Digital Life courses.

Trevor Lohrbeer, cofounder of Day Optimizer, a time management web app that helps solopreneurs create daily plans that reflect their priorities using guided workflows based on neuroscience principles. On YouTube, he hosts the Mindful Productivity channel, where he teaches concepts, frameworks and techniques for being productive while living a good life. He is the creator of Strategic Life Tools, a free membership site with tools for life planning, and Lean Decisions, a blog that teaches people concepts and techniques for making better decisions.

Liz Guthridge, an executive coach, facilitator, consultant and founder of Connect Consulting Group. Guthridge helps individuals rewire their mindset to increase their self-awareness, deepen their personal growth and development, and open themselves to more possibilities. With a growth mindset, Guthridge says, individuals can better navigate more complex and uncertain situations, connect more dots, and build stronger relationships with stakeholders in multiple ecosystems.

Brenda Hershey, an author, international humanitarian, researcher and founder/president of TRY Global. Having several years of humanitarian fieldwork experience in the Middle East, Brenda is passionate about integrating Trauma Recovery Yoga (TRY) and mind-body recovery methods into traditional humanitarian efforts because she knows firsthand that these tools are, in fact, life-changing.

Dr. Ronald D. Siegel, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, where he has taught for over 35 years. He is a long-time student of mindfulness meditation and author of many books, including “The Extraordinary Gift of Being Ordinary: Finding Happiness Right Where You Are” and “The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems.” He is professor for The Great Courses’ “The Science of Mindfulness: A Research-Based Path to Well-Being.”

Laura Izquierdo Bosch, a freelance writer, editor and host of the Thoughts from Limbo podcast, a show designed to help listeners navigate adulthood and embrace the uncertainty of life. She has interviewed renowned entrepreneurs, Olympic athletes, actors, authors, journalists and more. With a background in law, strategy consulting and a passion for social identity, her writing focuses on the future of work, freelancing, self-improvement and business.

Danny Forest, a top author on and a polymath with an obsession for learning. He has been a software engineer, writer and photographer and has started seven businesses, two of which are still operating: Power Level Studios and Forest Co. On, he’s been a top writer in 23 categories, including No. 1 in Education for two years straight, and his content has been read by over 10 million people worldwide.

Jonathan Shane, an entrepreneur and founder of Keto Road. Shane has utilized mindset tools and holistic lifestyle approaches to overcome bulimia, negative self-image and the struggles of everyday life and and teaches others to do the same.

Tyler Brown, a lawyer turned host and creator of the Wake Me Up podcast.

Corey McComb, author of “Productivity Is for Robots.” His writing focuses on the sweet spots in life where human connection, creativity and personal growth intersect. Through blog posts, essays and the occasional short story, McComb examines the human condition and new ways of thinking.

Jeremy Lent, the author of “The Web of Meaning” and “The Patterning Instinct.” Lent has been described by The Guardian journalist George Monbiot as “one of the greatest thinkers of our age.” His work investigates the underlying causes of our civilization’s existential crisis and explores pathways toward a life-affirming future. He is founder of the nonprofit Liology Institute, dedicated to fostering an integrated worldview that could enable humanity to thrive sustainably on our planet.

Jim Woods, founder of Jim Woods Writes and the co-author of the bestselling books “Ready Aim Fire” and “Focus Booster.” He is also a novelist, podcaster and productivity coach who has been featured by Fast Company, Life Hacker and others. He has a passion for helping individuals write books with his company, Write Publish Share.

Jeffrey Besecker, founder of The Light Inside podcast. He’s a holistic behavioral coach who guides individuals in effectively understanding the conditioned beliefs and patterns that shape every area of life. He helps individuals reclaim their inner authority by realigning them with a secure sense of self-concept.

University of Alabama Program to Boost Pipeline of Rural Healthcare Leaders

Rural communities across the U.S.—and especially the American South—desperately need more healthcare professionals. Now the University of Alabama, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, has launched a new summer program to prepare pre-med students to address the issue and potentially boost the much-needed pipeline from medical school to underserved small towns across the state.

UA’s College of Community Health Sciences (CCHS) this month welcomed the first class of students in the Tuscaloosa Rural Pre-Medical Internship, a seven-week program that teaches students about the health needs of rural Alabama residents, particularly in the fields of family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics.

Participants will also gain a better understanding of the day-to-day life of family medicine doctors. Additionally, the program will enhance students’ understanding of medical school and increase their competitiveness for medical school admission.

Related: Auburn University’s Rural Medicine Program helps provide future doctors throughout Alabama

The program is part of the CCHS’s Rural Programs and its Rural Health Leaders Pipeline. The pipeline is a sequence of programs from high school through medical school that recruit students from rural Alabama interested in working as future doctors and other health care professionals in rural communities.

“It means a great deal for CCHS Rural Programs to host these students as it adds another entry point into the Rural Health Leaders Pipeline,” said LaKeshia Whigham, program coordinator of CCHS Rural Programs. She said the pipeline’s mission is develop programs that “encourage, attract and nurture students of rural Alabama into and through programs to ‘grow our own’ rural health professionals who are leaders in developing healthy communities. I hope the students learn that they are an invaluable resource to their communities and understand the impact primary care physicians can have on rural areas in the state.”

“We want these students to know our programs can be an avenue in their journey to serve rural Alabama,” Whigham added.

Related: University of Alabama creates free program to help children with disabilities and developmental delays

Students will spend five weeks at CCHS and two weeks with a family medicine physician near their hometown. Only rural Alabama residents are accepted. To be eligible, they must have completed four semesters of undergraduate coursework, have an overall GPA of a B range or higher, and scored at least a 22 on the ACT or 1200 on the SAT.

The Centers for Disease Control website notes that people living in rural areas “are more likely than urban residents to die prematurely from all of the five leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke.”

According to, primary care is the most basic and most vital service needed in rural communities today. The benefits of primary care includes early disease detection, better care coordination, lower cancer and heart disease mortality rates, reduction in low birth weight, and improved health behaviors.

This article has been edited and expanded from the original version appearing on the University of Alabama website.

University of South Carolina Scientists: More COVID-19 Vaccine Options on the Way

By Prakash Nagarkatti, University of South Carolina and Mitzi Nagarkatti, University of South Carolina

While COVID-19 vaccines continue to be highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death, it has become clear that the protection offered by the current vaccines wanes over time. This necessitates the use of booster shots that are safe and effective in enhancing the immune response against the virus and extending protection.

But when to get a first or second booster, and which shot to choose, are open questions. Many people find themselves unsure whether to wait on new, updated formulations of the COVID-19 vaccines or to mix and match combinations of the original vaccine strains.

Related: Ole Miss creates new research center focused on medical marijuana

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, uses its knob-shaped spike protein to gain entry into cells and to cause infection. Each of the existing and upcoming vaccines relies on emulating the spike protein to trigger the immune response. However, each vaccine type presents the spike protein to the immune system in different ways.

As immunologists studying inflammatory and infectious diseases, including COVID-19, we are interested in understanding how the COVID-19 vaccine designs differ in the type of immunity they trigger and the protection that results.

New bivalent vaccines
Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, the two companies whose mRNA vaccines have been the primary options for COVID-19 vaccination across all age groups, both have new vaccine formulations on the way. An advisory committee of the Food and Drug Administration is set to meet on June 28, 2022, to evaluate the newest versions and to decide on which are likely to be recommended for use in this fall’s booster shots.

Moderna’s new bivalent vaccine mixes mRNA that encodes for the spike proteins of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as the slightly different spike protein of the more infectious omicron variant.

In early June 2022, Moderna said that in clinical trials, its bivalent vaccine outcompetes the original vaccine strain, inducing a stronger immune response and longer protection against the original SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, including omicron.

Related: 7 ways to get students excited about STEM careers

Moderna later announced that its newest formulation also performs well against the newest omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, which are quickly becoming the dominant strains in the U.S. Because of the significantly stronger immune response that the new shot induces, Moderna predicts that such protection may last a year and plans to introduce its new vaccine in August.

And most recently, on June 25, Pfizer-BioNTech also announced results for its two new COVID-19 vaccine formulations: a bivalent formulation consisting of mRNA that encodes for the spike proteins of the original SARS-CoV-2 strain and the original BA.1 omicron subvariant, and a “monovalent” version that is only directed at the spike protein of BA.1.

The company’s preliminary studies demonstrated that both the monovalent and the bivalent vaccines triggered antibodies that neutralized the newer omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, although to a lesser degree than the BA.1 subvariant. However, Pfizer’s monovalent vaccine triggered better virus-neutralizing antibodies against the omicron BA.1 subvariant than did the bivalent vaccine.

However, whether the differences in the levels of such antibodies seen with the monovalent versus bivalent vaccines translate into different levels of protection against newer omicron variants remains to be established in clinical trials.

Progress on the Novavax Vaccine
Another vaccine formulation that is working its way toward authorization is Novavax, a vaccine built using the spike protein of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Novavax vaccine has the advantage of being similar to traditional vaccines, such as the DTaP vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, or the vaccines against other viral infections such as hepatitis and shingles. The Novavax vaccine has been clinically tested in South Africa, the United Kingdom and the U.S. and found to be safe and highly effective with 90% efficacy against mild, moderate and severe forms of COVID-19.

An advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration endorsed the Novavax vaccine in early June 2022. Now, the FDA is reviewing changes that Novavax made during its manufacturing process before making its decision to authorize the shot.

Related: How a School of Business project could save lives in cancer clinical trials

In Australia, the Novavax vaccine was recently registered provisionally as a booster for individuals aged 18 years and over. The company is performing phase 3 clinical trials to determine if its vaccine can be used safely and effectively as a booster in people who have previously taken mRNA vaccines.

When these new vaccines become available in the coming months, people will have significantly more options for mixing and matching vaccines in order to enhance the duration and quality of their immune protection against COVID-19.

Mixing and matching
Until then, clinical studies have shown that even mixing and matching the existing vaccine types is an effective strategy for boosting. For example, recent studies suggest that when adults who were fully vaccinated with any of the original three COVID-19 vaccines – Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson – received a booster dose with a different vaccine brand from the one they received in their initial series, they had a similar or more robust immune response compared to boosting with the same brand of vaccine.

Vaccine mixing has been found to be safe and effective in various studies. The reason why mixing vaccines might produce a more robust immune response goes back to how each one presents the spike protein of the virus to the immune system.

When the SARS-CoV-2 virus mutates in regions of the spike protein, as has been the case with each of the variants and subvariants, and tries to evade the immune cells, antibodies that recognize different parts of the spike protein can stop it in its tracks and prevent the virus from infecting the body’s cells.

So whether you decide to get a booster shot now or wait until the fall, for many it’s heartening to know that more options are on the way.The Conversation

Prakash Nagarkatti and Mitzi Nagarkatti, are both professors of pathology, microbiology and immunology at the University of South Carolina, a Sullivan Foundation partner school.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Alopecia Is No Laughing Matter for Millions of Black American Women

The Oscar slap that overshadowed the Academy Awards ceremony was sparked by a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s lack of hair—with husband Will Smith objecting violently to comedian Chris Rock mocking the actress’s shaved head.

Aside from the recriminations over what could be perceived as a mean-spirited jibe and a disproportionate response, many people will sympathize with Pinkett Smith. As millions of women in the U.S. will attest, hair loss is no laughing matter.

The Conversation asked dermatologist Danita Peoples of Wayne State University’s School of Medicine about alopecia and why certain forms of it can disproportionately affect Black women.

1. What is alopecia?

Alopecia is a medical word that refers to hair loss generally. And there are descriptors added, which can refer to where the hair loss is occurring or to the cause of it. Traction alopecia, for example, is hair loss from trauma or chronic inflammatory changes to the hair follicles.

2. What causes alopecia?

Traction alopecia happens when there is trauma to the scalp, where the hair is being pulled or rubbed on a regular basis, causing inflammation around the hair follicles. This can lead to hair loss or thinning.

Alopecia areata describes hair loss to a particular area. It has different levels of severity, so there might be just a coin-sized area of hair loss on the scalp, or it could affect large areas. It can occur any place on the body. Or it might result in complete hair loss on the scalp—alopecia totalis. Some people lose eyebrows or see a thinning of their eyelashes.

Related: How Ignite Retreat speaker Sanah Jivani overcame alopecia and learned to love her natural self

People can even have alopecia universalis, which is a loss of hair on the entire body.

Alopecia areata is considered an “immune-mediated” type of hair loss. The immune system is attacking the hair follicles. It has to do with T cells, the important white blood cells in the immune system.

And then other autoimmune disorders can have alopecia associated with them. This is the form of alopecia that Jada Pinkett Smith has said she has.

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that can lead to hair loss. One type is systemic lupus erythematosus. Another type, discoid lupus erythematosus, primarily affects the skin and can cause hair loss with scarring on the scalp.

Thyroid abnormalities can be related to hair loss as well. In fact, when patients come to me with hair loss, the first test that I may order is a thyroid study.

3. Whom does alopecia affect?

Anyone can get alopecia. Alopecia areata can show up at any age, from children to adults, and both men and women. But it’s more likely to affect African Americans than white or Asian Americans. About 1 million people in the U.S. have alopecia areata.

Traction alopecia can affect people in certain professions, like ballerinas, who wear their hair up in buns all the time. The pressure and friction from sports headgear, like helmets or baseball caps, can also cause hair loss. And in some parts of northern Europe, where it is common for people to pull their hair back tight on a regular basis, there are higher rates of traction alopecia. Traction alopecia affects one-third of women of African descent, making it the most common type of alopecia affecting Black women.

4. Why is traction alopecia so common among Black women?

That is due to certain hair styling practices that Black women use on their hair—wearing tight weaves or extensions, straightening with heat, that sort of thing. Hair is a big deal among African-American women in a way that it isn’t for others. When I was growing up, my older relatives told us girls that our hair was our “crowning glory.” And they made a big deal about us keeping our hair looking stylish and well-groomed, and that usually meant straightening it.

But I believe there’s less pressure than there used to be for Black women to keep our hair straightened, in the workplace or elsewhere.

5. How is alopecia treated?

It depends on the cause. There are injected or topical corticosteroids for alopecia areata. If it’s due to a nutritional deficiency, like iron or protein, obviously you simply need to correct the deficiencies with supplements or by changing the diet. When it is caused by traction or discoid lupus, if you don’t treat the inflammation on the scalp soon enough, the hair loss can become permanent.

When it comes to traction, though, it’s much more about eliminating the practices that cause the problem in the first place. What’s happening now is more people are aware of the downsides of chemical or heat applications to straighten the hair and are using those damaging processes less.

One thing that may help is the CROWN Act, legislation introduced last year, which the U.S. House passed on March 18, 2022. That would make it illegal to discriminate against people wearing natural styles, such as afros and braids, so I am hopeful that it will contribute to a lot less traction alopecia in the future.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.

This GMU Student Is a Champion for People With Disabilities Who Need Organ Transplants

Born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect, Charlotte Woodward underwent four surgeries as a child and received a heart transplant in 2012 that saved her life. Now a sociology major at George Mason University, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, she is working to make sure healthcare providers can’t discriminate against people with disabilities who need organ transplants. And she has picked up some powerful allies in her crusade.

In December 2021, U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced legislation named in Woodward’s honor: the Charlotte Woodward Organ Transplant Discrimination Prevention Act (S.3301). A similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives about a year earlier by Rep. Jaime Hererra Beutler (R-WA) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA).

Related: Down syndrome is no barrier to entrepreneurship for this Clemson LIFE graduate

Woodward was born with a heart defect that includes a hole in the wall between the heart’s chambers and flaws in its valves. About half of all babies with Down syndrome are born with the condition. When it was determined Woodward needed a heart transplant, she was placed on the national organ transplant list and received her new heart in an operation just 11 days later.

But as reported in a January 2021 story about Woodward, her case was an unusual success story. Many people with Down syndrome either get turned away for heart transplants or aren’t prioritized to receive new hearts—simply because of their disability.

“Many people with Down syndrome in society aren’t considered to be candidates for an organ transplant, and that begs the question: Whose lives are valuable?” Woodward told Forbes.

Charlotte Woodward (right) and Sara Hart Weir, director of the National Down Syndrome Society (left), presented a national impact award to Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, in 2018.

According to a 2008 survey of 88 transplant centers conducted by Stanford University researchers, 85% of pediatric transplant centers factored in intellectual or developmental disability “at least some of the time” when determining an applicant’s eligibility. Seventy-one percent of surveyed heart transplant programs “always” or “usually” considered intellectual or developmental disabilities when determining eligibility for a transplant.

A National Council on Disability study, conducted in 2019, found that disability discrimination by organ transplant centers usually takes the form of refusal to evaluate a person with a disability as a transplant candidate or refusal to place the person on the national organ transplant waiting list.

Related: Fast-growing restaurant chain commits to hiring more people with differing abilities

“It’s statistics like that that make people sit back and evaluate why legislation like this is necessary,” Ashley Helsing, the director of government relations at the National Down Syndrome Society (NDDS), told Forbes.

Woodward understands that better than most. She knows she was lucky and has been fighting organ transplant discrimination for years, since receiving her own heart transplant 10 years ago. “I’ve been an advocate my entire life, and I’m always looking for the opportunity to help other people,” she said.

More than 25 states currently prohibit organ transplantation discrimination. But discrepancies exist across state laws, and delays in delivering relief to patients have made enforcement difficult.

In February 2020, Woodward, a native of Fairfax, Va., testified before the Virginia General Assembly about the issue, and her testimony proved to be an important step in the passage of state legislation that prevents disability-based discrimination against people who need life-saving organ transplants. In fact, that Virginia bill passed unanimously.

Woodward now works for the NDSS, a human rights organization that supports and advocates for the Down syndrome community. As the community outreach associate, Woodward has met with legislators, taken part in numerous advocacy events, served as editor in chief for an upcoming NDSS magazine, and starred in several TikTok videos, one of which has had 4.4 million views.

In her fight for equal rights for the disabled community, Woodward is also working on issues ranging from helping people with disabilities move into community employment settings to protection of federal benefits for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities who want to marry.

“I want society to be aware of the lived experiences of people with disabilities,” Woodward said, “as well as the abilities that they bring to the world, even though they were born into a world that wasn’t made for them.”


Sanctuary Magazine: Meet Sanah Jivani, Speaker at the Spring 2022 Ignite Retreat

Sanah Jivani, a featured speaker at the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Spring 2022 Ignite Retreat, is the founder of the nonprofit Love Your Natural Self Foundation and the creator of the International Day of Self-Love (originally called International Natural Day) in 2012. At the spring retreat, taking place April 1-3 in Staunton, Va., Jivani will share her childhood experiences with alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that leads to permanent hair loss, and how she founded her nonprofit as well as her work as community engagement manager with Generation Hope in Washington, D.C.

Jivani was a student in the Honors College at the University of Texas-San Antonio when Sanctuary Magazine featured her in its 2018 Focus on Youth section, which spotlights aspiring artists, philanthropists and civic leaders who “have demonstrated outstanding commitment to their community or craft.” Myrna Beth Haskell, managing editor of Sanctuary Magazine, spoke with Jivani about her alopecia diagnosis, her journey from self-hate to self-love, and her nonprofit organization. This article has been republished here with permission from Sanctuary Magazine.

Click here to read the original article in Sanctuary Magazine.

Haskell: When were you diagnosed with Alopecia? Tell me about a few of your early struggles with this condition.

Jivani: I was diagnosed with alopecia at age three. I have a memory of my mom doing my hair and finding a little patch that was missing. She was freaking out and called my siblings into the room to look at it. I knew from an early age that something was kind of different about me.

My mom would do my hair different ways to hide the bald patches. It would take like an hour, and sometimes the styles would come out during the day. The patches would grow back, but in the 7th grade things changed. It was spring break, and I noticed several spots. Then, a few days into the vacation, I woke up with so much hair on my pillow. I didn’t want to touch my head. I was terrified of what I might see. I didn’t even want to go downstairs. We immediately went shopping to get a wig, but it was this cheap kind, and it actually made me stand out more.

I experienced a lot of bullying. That first day after spring break, all eyes were on me. I would walk into a room, and the room would go silent, so I knew they were talking about me. Then, this Facebook page went up asking people to guess why I was wearing a wig. People would write things like “she wants to be cool” or “she wants to get attention so people will notice her.” But the very last thing I wanted was attention. They would also leave notes on my locker.

Related: Learn more about the Spring 2022 Ignite Retreat and sign up here before March 14.

I had to find a way to feel like I was getting control back. I knew that I could do anything I wanted to my own body. I was barely eating, and this moved on to throwing up before school and during school. I also started cutting.* It’s hard to explain, but every other part of me was hurting, and this was a way to make me feel in control of the pain. So, I would punish myself, and, afterward, I would feel worse. It was an addiction. I was hiding it with big rubber wristbands that hid the cuts on my wrists, or I would cut in places others wouldn’t see, like my upper thigh. I felt suicidal, and my attendance at school dropped. I missed almost half the school year because I just didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I was eventually diagnosed with depression.

Through all of this, I still had some friends, and my friends were noticing that I was engaging in self-harm and finally said something to a school counselor. The school contacted my mom, and she found a counseling center with a therapist who specialized in adolescent self-harm and eating disorders. I began to learn that there are so many other strategies to cope, but it took a long time to recover.

Talking about it helps me. I’m six years clean now, but it was a difficult process. There’s so much stigma around mental health. I want to get the word out to others that they’re not alone and should find someone to talk to. It’s so important to find the right specialist who specifically deals with what you’re experiencing.

*Cutting is a type of self-injury (or SI). People who cut often start cutting in their young teens. Some continue to cut into adulthood. Some people cut because they feel desperate for relief from bad feelings. People who cut may not know better ways to get relief from emotional pain or pressure. (Teens Health: Nemours Foundation)

Related: Sanah Jivani: How this Ignite Retreat speaker learned to love her natural self

Haskell: What inspired you to finally put down the wig and celebrate your natural self?

Jivani: The trigger was when my mom got a letter from my school saying I was going to have to repeat the 8th grade. I knew this just wasn’t me. I had always loved school, but it finally registered that I had lost that love of learning. I wanted the ‘girl who loved school’ back.

I started feeling strong and empowered again, so I began taking the wig off at certain times—like during a pool party.

Haskell: When did you decide you wanted to help others with their self-esteem? 

Jivani: Before the first day of high school, I ended up posting a video on my Facebook page—only one take—I just spoke from my heart. I pulled the wig off in the video and said, “This is who I am.” I was so young and so scared. I went to school the next day, and I hadn’t read any of the comments people were posting. I was afraid of what I might find. Then, some of the students came up to me and asked if I was reading everything others were posting. So, I finally looked. So many kids started sharing their own stories on my Facebook page. They were describing how they felt and what they were going through. They were so receptive. I couldn’t believe there was this outpouring of emotion. At first, I thought that the initial response would die down, but then I saw the impact it was having at my own school. I felt better than I had for a very long time, and I also realized that I didn’t want this to end with my school. I wanted to reach others.

Haskell: It’s not easy to get nonprofit status, and you were so young when you started the Love Your Natural Self Foundation. Tell me a bit about that process. Who helped you?

Jivani: I started doing research and emailing school counselors to ask about setting up assemblies at their schools. The school counselors explained to me that they needed to know much more about what I planned to do. I then sat down and started creating a mission statement and specifics about what an assembly or program might include. My journalism teacher helped with the research I needed to do and with the paperwork I had to submit for nonprofit status. I was under 18, so I needed two adults to sign off for me. My older sister also got involved. They both saw how passionate I was and wanted to help.

Haskell: Since its inception, how has the organization grown?

Jivani: It’s grown beyond my wildest dreams. Initially, I was just going to help students at schools in Texas. We now work with 100 schools around the U.S. and host projects in 28 countries worldwide. I’m usually traveling every weekend.

Sanah was leaving for South Africa a few days after this interview was conducted.

Haskell: Tell me about some of the school projects that you’ve created. Which ones do you find most successful?

Jivani: Well, our hashtag (#NaturalDay) began a movement. People all around the world started using it to share messages with others on this special day. International Natural Day takes place on February 13th. It’s the day before Valentine’s Day because it is supposed to remind you to love yourself and to let go of that one insecurity that is holding you back. Individuals and schools celebrate this day in many different ways.*

Our Self-Love program provides curriculum to help students with their self-esteem and emotional well-being. I’m close enough in age to many of these students, so I can reach them. We also provide empowerment sessions [which are customized for the location and needs of the participants]. Last year we provided a program via Skype to help empower victims of abuse in India through art.

We might start at a school with an assembly, and then the students host their own day or special event. Basically, the kids bring this to life in their own way.

*A school in Westerville, Ohio created a large tree in the cafeteria where each leaf symbolized a strength of a student.

Haskell: You must have a lot of contact with other young women who reach out to you. Has someone else’s story stood out to you?

Jivani: There was one on Twitter that really affected me. I was having a very bad day. This young girl posted a photo without her wig with a message: “This is because of Sanah.” There was such a parallel. She was in 7th grade just as I was when I lost all of my hair. I ended up messaging her.

I felt so grateful. I could be there for someone else—I was having a real impact.

Haskell: You’re currently attending college, right? What are your future plans?

Jivani: I am a senior at the University of Texas at San Antonio. I have plans to go to graduate school and study nonprofit management. I would also like to run my foundation full-time in the future. It’s where my passion is.

Haskell: Imagine you’ve just traveled through time, and you find yourself in the year 2028. Where are you, and what are you doing?

Jivani: I hope to be running my nonprofit organization full-time and advocating for an International Day of Self-Love in every country around the world. I’ll also be advocating for the inclusion of curriculum that focuses on social and emotional development in schools. I’ll be working with students, educators and policy makers.

Sanah Jivani: How This Ignite Retreat Speaker Learned to Love Her Natural Self

Sanah Jivani, a speaker at the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Spring 2022 Ignite Retreat, was just three years old when she began losing her hair to alopecia. At first, it fell out in little patches, which her mother hid carefully with various styling techniques. But the condition had worsened by the 7th grade. She had to wear a wig to school every day. Bullies tormented her for being different. She developed an eating disorder and began cutting herself to cope with the emotional pain.

That’s all behind her now. Today, Jivani, who hails from Spring, Texas, is the founder and CEO of a nonprofit organization called the Love Your Natural Self Foundation and the community engagement manager for Generation Hope, headquartered in Washington, D.C. An accomplished public speaker and mental wellness advocate with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) and two master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, she also launched the International Day of Self Love in 2012. Now in her mid-20s, Jivani has racked up more honors—including being only the second Harry S. Truman Scholar in UTSA’s history—and served on more advisory boards than most people thrice her age.

And she hasn’t worn a wig in years.

Click here to learn more about the Spring 2022 Ignite Retreat and register before March 14.

Jivani will share her inspiring story with attendees of the Ignite Retreat, which takes place April 1-3 in Staunton, Va. And she wants them to take an important message to heart. “I hope the students I work with know that the biggest gift that they have to offer the world is already within them,” she said in an interview this week with the Sullivan Foundation. “It just takes believing in the power of who you are. Your voice matters, and you have the ability to create amazing and meaningful change.”

Sanah Jivani celebrated the 10th anniversary of International Day of Self Love, which she created, on Feb. 13. (Photo: Sanah Javani / Instagram)

Taking Back Control
Understandably, Jivani’s middle-school self saw things differently, as she recounted in a compelling 2018 interview with Sanctuary Magazine. A few days into spring break of her seventh-grade year, she said, “I woke up with so much hair on my pillow, I didn’t want to touch my head. I was terrified of what I might see. I didn’t even want to go downstairs. We immediately went shopping to get a wig, but it was this cheap kind, and it actually made me stand out more.”

Some anonymous bully from her school created a burn page on Facebook “asking people to guess why I was wearing a wig. People would write things like ‘she wants to be cool’ or ‘she wants to get attention so people will notice her.’ But the very last thing I wanted was attention. They would also leave notes on my locker.”

“I had to find a way to feel like I was getting control back,” Jivani said. “I knew that I could do anything I wanted to my own body. I was barely eating, and this moved on to throwing up before school and during school. I also started cutting. It’s hard to explain, but every other part of me was hurting, and this was a way to make me feel in control of the pain. So, I would punish myself, and, afterward, I would feel worse. It was an addiction.”

Sunk in depression, she often couldn’t get out of bed for school and missed almost half a year of classes. She tried to take her own life more than once. Eventually, her mother got her into a counseling center with a therapist who specialized in adolescent self-harm and eating disorders. “I began to learn that there are so many other strategies to cope, but it took a long time to recover,” she told Sanctuary Magazine.

When Jivani learned that she would have to repeat the 8th grade, she decided enough was enough. She still had some friends who had stood by her at school, and she loved learning too much to let alopecia keep holding her back. “I started feeling strong and empowered again, so I began taking the wig off at certain times—like during a pool party.”

Then, shortly before her first day of high school, Jivani made a bold move. She posted a video on Facebook and “just spoke from my heart.” Bravely facing the camera, she pulled off the wig and declared, “This is who I am.” Too scared to read the comments on her video, she went to school the next day, unsure of what to expect.

“Then, some of the students came up to me and asked if I was reading everything others were posting,” Jivani said. “So, I finally looked. So many kids started sharing their own stories on my Facebook page. They were describing how they felt and what they were going through. They were so receptive. I couldn’t believe there was this outpouring of emotion.”

Leading for Impact & Innovation: Sullivan Foundation offers life-changing study-abroad experience in France

Promoting Self-Love
Jivani founded the Love Your Natural Self Foundation while she was still in high school. The foundation focuses on empowering people through events, movements and hands-on sessions. It provides educational programming and empowerment sessions to help students bolster their self-esteem and emotional well-being.

As of 2018, the organization had grown to include 100 schools in the U.S. and projects in 28 countries. “This year we were up to 165 campuses,” she told the Sullivan Foundation. “I do not get to visit every campus we work with in-person, but I do my best to continue to grow this amazing movement and provide campuses with resources when they are requested.”

The Love Your Natural Self Foundation spearheaded the International Day of Self Love, which is now celebrated every February 13th in schools, communities and on social media channels around the world. The first event was held at her own high school. Since then she has been featured on Good Morning America and was named “One of 12 Social Media Warriors Who Helped Restore Our Faith” by MTV in 2016.

“I hear stories from individuals almost weekly,” she told the Sullivan Foundation. “It’s amazing to know how much the work has expanded and how many people resonate with my story. On the International Day of Self Love, I have seen individuals celebrate in such brave and amazing ways. I’ve seen individuals get help for their mental illness, leave abusive relationships, open up about their identity, and truly just embrace and celebrate who they are. It’s a dream come true.”

“When I share my story at school assemblies, students often come up to me and tell me that my presentation saved their life,” Jivani said. “I navigated several suicide attempts in middle school and high school, and I know hearing a story that represented my experience would have meant the world to me. I am so grateful that I can be that support for others.”

Jivani also heard from a 7th grader who had lost her own hair to alopecia overnight. “This was completely parallel to my story,” she said. “When she searched the internet for information about alopecia, she came across my story. She told me that, because she found my story, she immediately felt brave enough to go to school without a wig. That was such a full-circle moment for me. I work hard every day to be the role model I wish I had growing up.”

Hope for the Future
Jivani’s work with Generation Hope is aimed at helping student parents succeed and achieve economic mobility. The organization works with education and policy partners to drive systemic change and provides direct support to teen parents in college as well as their children through holistic, two-generation programming. In her role as community engagement manager, Jivani oversees the recruitment of scholars, mentors and volunteers. “I am so grateful to work at such an amazing education-access non-profit with such an incredible team!” she said.

“I truly believe that I am exactly where I am supposed to be,” she added. “My job at Generation Hope challenges me in every way—I’m managing an amazing team, and I’m trusted with so much responsibility. At the same time, I’m able to balance the work of the Love Your Natural Self Foundation with my current position. I love learning from an amazing team and organization, while still getting to maintain my own organization.”

“I always want to be in a position where I am learning, growing and being challenged,” Jivani continued. “I’m not sure exactly where I want to go from here, but one thing is for sure—I’m 100% committed to turning my adversities into the opportunity to serve others. I have processed my challenges through telling my story and helping others, and my plan is to continue to do so!”

As a young person living in a turbulent era rife with political divisions, Jivani still envisions a promising future for the country. “I am so inspired by the young people I work with,” she said. “They always motivate me to be hopeful. The next generation has the courage, bravery and persistence to reimagine systems. They are brave, bold, fearless and radical thinkers. Youth activism is a reason to be hopeful, and I can’t wait to live in the world we build together.”

Ole Miss Creates New Research Center Focused on Medical Marijuana

By Whitney Tarpy, University of Mississippi

As more states around the U.S. pass laws allowing the medicinal use of marijuana, the University of Mississippi, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, has created a new research center to make sure it’s safe and effective for the patients who need it.

The National Center for Cannabis Research and Education (NCCRE) will foster and conduct scientific research, data analysis, education and training on the health effects of cannabis. NCCRE researchers and leaders will also aid in policymaking and outreach as more state programs emerge.

The center was approved on Jan. 20 by the board of trustees of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning. Additionally, the Mississippi Legislature passed the state’s first medical marijuana bill earlier in January, but Governor Tate Reeves hasn’t yet said whether he will sign it into law. However, the measure passed both the State Senate and House of Representatives with veto-proof majorities.

Related: Sullivan Foundation’s Study Abroad program will take students on a journey of self-discovery in Strasbourg, France

So the timing couldn’t be better for the creation of the NCCRE. “There is no doubt that cannabis can provide treatments for serious diseases, and there is a solid research foundation for further exploration,” said Larry Walker, the center’s interim director and former director of UM’s National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR). “The potency of the plant, the sophistication of preparation and delivery, the ready availability of these products and the declining perceptions of risks mean that many seeking its health benefits could experience various adverse effects.”

Cannabis plants grow in an indoor facility operated by the School of Pharmacy. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“The goal of the NCCRE is that health professionals and patients have the products and information that will allow them to tap the hope for new treatments from cannabis while understanding and minimizing harmful effects,” Walker added.

The NCCRE’s initiatives emphasize research, advising and education in medical cannabis as well as cannabis-related drug development. Along with working toward the creation of new drugs and formulations, the NCCRE will perform data collection and analysis while training and educating medical professionals, industry and government officials.

Ole Miss has a long, acclaimed history of groundbreaking research on cannabis and its medical uses, noted UM Chancellor Glenn Boyce. “With our decades-long scientific leadership in this field, we’re equipped to be a leading resource in this area, and we’re ready to play an invaluable role in ensuring the future of cannabis is safe, productive and effective.”

Related: “You can change the world”: Students reflect on Sullivan study-abroad experiences

For more than 50 years, UM’s School of Pharmacy and NCNPR has provided standardized cannabis products for research through the federal government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Drug Supply Program. Its products include bulk plant material, cigarettes, cannabis extracts and purified cannabinoids.

UM researchers have vast experience in the isolation, identification and synthesis of cannabinoids. Of the 50 new cannabinoids discovered between 2005 and 2015, 43 can be attributed to Ole Miss researchers.

This work has resulted in numerous books and articles published in scientific journals covering topics such as botany and plant biotechnology, isolation of characterization, and product development, among others.

Under the NIDA contract, the university also conducts analyses to monitor the potency of illegal cannabis products that have been seized and submitted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and other police agencies. This statistical information has been useful to federal agencies in assessing illicit distribution patterns and the potential health impacts of marijuana use.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of Mississippi website.