LabBook: May 25, 2012

Protein models in the Gordon Center for Integrative Science (photo by Rob Mitchum)

Welcome to LabBook, our new weekly roundup of University of Chicago Medicine & Biological Sciences research news from around campus and the world wide web. Each Friday, LabBook will recap the week on the blog, link to news stories about our faculty and studies, and briefly summarize a handful of recent publications by our researchers.


With three weeks to go until graduation, Pritzker School of Medicine fourth-year students presented their research projects in the 66th annual Senior Scientific Session. The prize-winning studies included how to prevent fumbled hand-offs, how Islamic jurists view end-of-life care, discovering novel drug targets for different types of cancer, and the lessons learned in a failed trial.

Tarrasius problematicus was an eel-like fish who lived in Scotland 350 million years ago. But it wasn’t until last year that graduate student Lauren Sallan discovered Tarrasius‘ anatomical secret: a spine more similar to a human’s than a fish’s. The fossil finding will change how paleontologists classify whether an ancient species lived on land or in the sea, and prompts important questions about evolution and the genes that govern body patterning.

And most importantly…we have a new design!


In an isolated South Dakota population, a team led by University of Chicago professor of human genetics Carole Ober identified genes associated with male infertility, which were subsequently confirmed in sample of a Chicago men. The Himalayan Times and ScienceDaily covered the research published this week in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Our esteemed Janet Rowley will have an endowed chair (the Janet Davison Rowley Professorship in Cancer Research) named in her honor, thanks to donations from the Frank family and other contributors. As reports, the honor is the latest in Rowley’s illustrious career, which includes receiving the Lasker Award in 1998 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

After suffering a heart attack, patients rarely receive advice from their doctors on a very important lifestyle question: how soon can they resume a normal sex life? The Atlantic looks at Stacy Tessler Lindau’s study in the American Journal of Cardiology, covered here on Science Life a couple weeks back.

In a controversial report released this week, the US Preventative Task Force recommended that healthy men should not receive the PSA test screening for prostate cancer. Scott Eggener, assistant professor of surgery at University of Chicago Medicine, has conducted research showing that the test is often used inappropriately, but told the Associated Press that the USPTF guidelines went too far.

Though it caused a lot of concern in 2009, the H1N1 influenza virus may actually point the way to a long-sought medical tool: a universal flu vaccine. A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences co-authored by immunology researcher Patrick Wilson looked at 24 adults immunized against the H1N1 virus in 2009 could generate antibodies protective against a wide variety of influenza strains, as RedOrbit reports. An earlier step in the research was covered on Science Life in January 2011.

The brilliantly clever study of rat empathy was featured in almost every publication around the globe when the study came out back in December, but the Scientific American story on the research by Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, Peggy Mason, and Jean Decety just hit newsstands this week. “The bottom line,” Mason told reporter Ferris Jabr, “is that helping an individual in distress is part of our biology.” 

A New York Times article on the shift in thinking about the genetic causes of disease quoted Jonathan Pritchard, professor of human genetics, on how scientists are starting to look at rare gene variants as the culprits. We profiled Pritchard’s research on looking in unlikely places for gene variants relevant to disease in February.

Lucas Brouwers at Scientific American’s Thoughtomics blog dug deep into Sallan’s paper on Tarrasius‘ human-like spine, and put it in context with another paper about the origins of land-dwelling and walking published on the same day.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend.

About Rob Mitchum (525 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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