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Photo Credit: Sarah Gibbens

Minds Wide Open, was the theme of the TEDx San Antonio event Saturday, Oct. 12. TED conferences began in 1984 in Montgomery, California and are now undertaken and organized internationally.

Held in the offices of Rackspace Hosting, the event featured a series of 19 talks, each 20 minutes or fewer, that ranged from discussions on bacteria, space travel, death and sex.

Five of the 20 speakers were UTSA scholars who were chosen based on their innovative contributions to the San Antonio community.

Doug Frantz was the first to speak from UTSA. An associate professor of chemistry, Frantz has published 50 peer-reviewed scientific papers and is listed as an inventor on eight U.S. patents. His Saturday talk centered on the use of stem cells for the purpose of regenerative medicine, specifically in heart attack and cancer patients.

“The root of all cancer is a cancer stem cell,” explained Frantz. Rather than eliminating the stem cell, Frantz hypothesized that changing the inherent task of the cell itself could offer possibilities in the way of treatment.

“Stem cells can be used to regenerate muscle tissue, rather than creating scar tissue,” Frantz said. This would allow those who have suffered a heart attack to avoid dangerous surgeries and reduce the likelihood of a second heart attack. These cells, which are “for all intents and purposes immortal,” explained Frantz, would reverse the negative effects currently experienced by heart attack patients.

The next scholar from UTSA to speak was Martha Atkins, CEO of Atkinsosity, a company that helps individuals and their families cope with death. Her work is focused on helping people become less afraid of death and dying, and her talk focused on the death bed phenomena.

“The dying see visions that are comforting as they near death,” began Atkins. “It doesn’t matter how these visions happen. It matters that they do.”

Atkins believes that through understanding the experiences and visions seen by the dying, families can more effectively cope with a loved one’s passing with the knowledge that the person is passing with comfort. Atkins claimed to have seen these visions first-hand when she was diagnosed with end-stage breast cancer.

Inspired to work with grieving families after the death of her brother, Atkins believes that when we took the subject of death out of the home, “we took away the ability to deal with it.”

She hopes that by making death more open to discourse, the process of grief can be better dealt with.

Karl Klose, professor of microbiology at the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, was the third UTSA scholar at the conference.

Klose began his career performing postdoctoral studies at Harvard Medical School and eventually moved to UTSA where he founded the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases. His laboratories now include 18 infectious disease centers.

“If you think you’re sleeping alone at night, you’re not… you’re sleeping with bacteria,” began Klose. His talk, “What’s bugging us? Antibiotic resistant bacteria!” gave an engaging lesson on the dangers of quickly evolving intestinal bacteria.

“The introduction of antibiotics led to the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria,” Klose explained of this contemporary phenomena.

Klose noted that because bacteria are evolving methods of evading antibiotics, doctors are running out of drugs to treat common infections. “Think of bad bacteria as throwing Molotov cocktails,” said Klose, that wreak havoc on the body’s internal functions.

Klose believes that by studying how to target specific bacteria, rather than eliminating all bacteria with antibiotics, doctors can avoid making their store of treatment obsolete.

The next scholar to speak was UTSA College of Business professor Kristina Durante. Her research focuses on biological aspects of decision making and how instinctive animal behavioral patterns influence consumer choice.

She found that, unlike men who have steady hormone levels throughout the month, women experience a surge in estrogen when they ovulate once a month. This ovulation period can cause women to experience heightened levels of competition with other women. This competition often leads to spending more on clothing and increases attraction to men who are perceived as dominant males or “bad boys.”

“Lesbian women also have the same behavioral effects but towards different targets,” said Durante.

This increase in hormones can even potentially cause women to choose partners they would not normally choose. Women who are on birth control, however, do not ovulate or experience these hormonal changes.

Tom Tunstall, research director from the UTSA Institute for Economic Development was the last to speak, giving a talk about the implications of Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas and the U.S.

By his estimates, Eagle Ford is generating $61 billion in economic activity and creating more than 100,000 jobs. Along with providing a boom to the economy, mining shale has the possibility to make the U.S. less dependent on energy imports and is “the only production of shale on a large magnitude in the U.S.”

Activity from Eagle Ford has been so active that the night lights of oil camps in south Texas can easily been seen from space.

“There are at least 200 ghost towns in Texas— the result of a boomtown gone bust,” explained Tunstall. “We need more sustainable communities,” to maintain these high levels of economic growth. Other TED speakers included CEO of the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation Andres Andujar, who spoke on the need to develop community parks in San Antonio.

Attorney Ryan Cox, discussed the benefit and need for more humane prisons and how they could improve the criminal justice system.

Psychotherapist Jason Fischer, spoke on why “need” was a dangerous word and should be replaced with “want.”

Marketing Officer Eric Fletcher, a blind business executive, spoke on the danger of using metrics to measure human success in those suffering from disabilities. Photographer Nelson Guda spoke about using photographs for humanitarian efforts in war torn countries.

Counselor Faith Harper gave a talk on the importance of freely discussing sex to regain confidence and improve relationships.

Architect Brantley Hightower spoke about how architecture can reflect society’s view of the governmet.

Aerialist Julia Langenber performed an acrobatic routine.

Writer Liza Long discussed mental illness in children and her personal struggle of being the mother of a son with a severe mental illness.

Co-founder and Director of Geekdom Nick Longo discussed what motivates a person and the importance of having a vision for career success.

Children’s story teller Anastasia McKenna talked about the importance of reading to children and having personal interacton.

Director of Human Resources at HEB Myric Polhemus spoke about the importance of vulnerability in the workplace and at home.

Space Architect Samuel Ximenes discussed commercial moon travel and the possibility the Texas gulf poses to attract private space travel.

The conference ended with an interactive talk led by Roman Baca, a U.S. Marine and Iraqi War veteran who has used dance and art to give back to displaced Iraqi citizens.

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