Year in Review 2009

Photo by Justin Kern

Photo by Justin Kern

For this week betwixt holidays, I will be tinkering with the blog’s design and taking care of assorted other housekeeping tasks. So if the site is experiencing technical difficulties when you visit this week, never fear – barring WordPress catastrophe, we’ll be back with new posts in the new year.

Provided the site remains readable as I remodel, enjoy these highlights from 2009, the blog’s best year ever (Editor’s note: also the blog’s first year ever).

The beautiful photo at left of the University of Chicago in winter is by Justin Kern, a graduate student here who has more excellent photography around the city at The Windy Pixel.

Most Popular Posts

5) The Passion of Francis Collins (July 12): President Obama’s choice for director of the National Institutes of Health seemed simple on its face, but generated a firestorm of controversy from scientists such as Jerry Coyne and Steven Pinker. Blog founder Jeremy Manier, who interviewed Collins multiple times for the Chicago Tribune, shared his thoughts on the controversy and debated with Coyne in the comments.

4) Lilly’s Law: A Diabetes Registry for Illinois (August 18): When Lilly Jaffe was 6 years old, University of Chicago doctors discovered that her diabetes was caused by a rare genetic mutation that could be treated with pills instead of insulin injections. The publicity around Lilly’s story, including a Chicago Tribune story by the late Peter Gorner, eventually led to the creation this year of a statewide registry for children with juvenile diabetes, which researchers hope will lead to improved diabetes treatment and research.

3) Shaving Your Head for Science (September 28): Pediatric oncologist Samuel Volchenboum’s grant from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for research on the genetic signatures of neuroblastoma carried an unusual prerequisite – a public head-shaving. Before and after pictures included.

2) Darwin/Chicago 2009 – The Digest (November 2): A busy year of celebrations for Charles Darwin’s 200th anniversary reached the doorstep of the University of Chicago on Halloween weekend. I was there all weekend updating the blog from talks by the world’s leading experts on evolution’s past, present and future.

1) Foundational Research: Our (Ig) Nobel Prize (October 7): The Medical Center may not have pulled down any Nobels this year, but the Annals of Improbable Research saw fit to recognize work done here to invent a bra that can double as a gas mask in case of emergency. Director of Communications John Easton told the story of this, er, uplifting project.

UChicago Research

How the Skull Supervises Brain Development (August 10): The laboratories of Kathleen Millen and William Dobyns found a new gene associated with the neurological birth defect Dandy-Walker Syndrome, a finding with significance to autism and developmental neurobiology.

Nature Modeled by Google, Not Facebook (September 16): New Evolution & Ecology assistant professor Stefano Allesina applied the programming behind Google’s search engine to ecological systems, finding an inventive new way to spot the important nodes of a food web.

Reshuffling Cancer’s Deck with Tumor Genomes (December 23): The Chicago Cancer Genome Project, a collaboration between Kevin White’s systems biology lab and virtually every cancer doctor on campus, will use the genetic sequences from tumors to revolutionize treatment and research.

Diabetes Research in Reverse (October 26): Disease research often works from the human backwards, but Deborah Nelson and Louis Philipson discovered a genetic mutation that would likely cause juvenile diabetes…before a patient with that genetic mutation was discovered.

Ecstasy and the Neurobiology of Social Behavior (August 25): Observing the behavior and brain activity of people taking the club drug MDMA, also known as ecstasy, provided unexpected insight into how people perceive emotions in other people’s faces.

Moving Pictures

A New Liver for Raquel (August/September): 11-month old Raquel Allen, suffering from a liver birth defect called biliary atresia, needed a liver transplant. But neither of her parents were compatible to donate  a portion of their organ in a living-donor liver transplant procedure. So Catherine Ortiz, a co-worker of Raquel’s mother, volunteered to be the donor in the 12-hour procedure, which I recorded and edited into a three-part video. See also parts Two and Three.

Dr. FAQ (November/December): Last month, we kicked off our Dr. FAQ series of University of Chicago experts answering popular patient questions about medical topics in the news. Expect lots more in 2010! Sharon Hirsch on Autism, William Dobyns on Autism, Nita Lee on Cervical Cancer, Mary Russell on Holiday Dieting.

Darwin Videos (February): At the start of Darwin’s birthday year, Jeremy Manier recorded conversations with two of our most-acclaimed evolutionary experts: paleontologist Neil Shubin, and historian Robert Richards. As a bonus, you can also watch Shubin on Stephen Colbert’s show.

Janet Rowley’s New Medal (August): In August, Janet Rowley received the highest civilian honor from President Barack Obama alongside Stephen Hawking and Ted Kennedy – the Presidential Medal of Freedom. You can watch the ceremony on the link above, and read more about Rowley’s groundbreaking research on the genetics of cancer here.

Random Research

Laughing With Your Brain (October 13): Professor of Neurology and Psychology Steven Small gave a lecture for the Chicago Humanities Festival on how the brain creates laughter which spanned from brain imaging to a Tanzanian laughing epidemic to 1920’s novelty records.

Better Health Through Soda Pop Tax (September 17): Lost amid the fiery health care reform debate over how to insure the uninsured was the proposal (already taken up by some states) to fight obesity with a tax on sugary drinks.

Evolution via Cannibalism: The Case of Kuru (November 19): A paper in the New England Journal of Medicine gives an example of natural selection happening right now in humans, thanks to the spread of a neurodegenerative prion through the New Guinea tradition of “mortuary feasts.”

Obama’s Suprisingly Centrist Rules on Stem Cells (April 20): At the Chicago Tribune, Jeremy Manier followed the controversy over President George W. Bush’s limitations on federal stem cell research. In this post, he shared his thoughts about President Obama’s repeal of those restrictions and the new rules he put in place. You can also read Janet Rowley’s thoughts on being present when Obama signed his new order – Dr. Rowley got to go to the White House a lot this year.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the blog in 2009; please join us again in the next decade!

About Rob Mitchum (526 Articles)
Rob Mitchum is communications manager at the Computation Institute, a joint initiative between The University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.
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