LabBook June 8, 2012

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.

A special congratulations this week to the MD and PhD students who received their ceremonial hoods this morning at the 2012 Divisional Academic Ceremony for the Pritzker School of Medicine and the Biological Sciences Division. The keynote addresses were given by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (pictured at left greeting faculty as they processed into the ceremony) and Dr. Janet Rowley. Coverage of the ceremony will appear next week on Science Life.


Can dopamine replacement drugs and exercise work together to help Parkinson’s patients? A 2010 mouse study that stumbled into a mechanism for the mysterious “long duration response” of common Parkinson’s drug levodopa led to a data-mining study by Un Jung Kang of whether similar benefits are seen in humans. Though preliminary, the study suggests that adding the right exercises to Parkinson’s therapies may have synergistic benefits for patients.

Unfortunately, beating cancer once doesn’t meant that the disease will never come back. A study led by Tara Henderson looked at the incidence of gastrointestinal tumors in people who survived a childhood fight against cancer, and found that the risk of that secondary disease was five times higher than in the general population. The finding argues that childhood cancer survivors should be extra vigilant about their health, starting screening for these cancers at an earlier age.

The study of American health disparities has exposed weak spots in the health care system for racial and ethnic minorities, places where interventions can be applied to improve outcomes. This week, a paper by Aasim Padela and Farr Curlin proposes a new type of disparities research that compares populations by religion instead of race, in order to find new shortcomings of the health care system to address. The cultural beliefs and experiences of American Muslims, Padela’s research focus, provide an example of how this new realm of study could work.


One of the doctoral candidates participating in this morning’s hooding ceremony was Sho Yano, who at 21 years old is the youngest graduate in the history of the Pritzker School of Medicine. Yano, who began his MD/PhD training at age 12, was profiled by many media outlets this week, including the Chicago Tribune, CNN, the Associated Press, and USA Today. Yano’s PhD work was done in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology with Lucia Rothman-Denes.

The massive American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting is an annual fixture of the Chicago spring season, bringing thousands of cancer clinicians and researchers together at McCormick Place (we covered the 2010 meeting here). At this year’s event, University of Chicago faculty report results of studies on multiple myeloma, head and neck cancer, and the financial stress of paying for cancer care and appeared on panels discussing cancer drug shortages.

Glo1 is a gene once thought to be a mere “housekeeper” cleaning up the byproducts of metabolism in cells. But research published last month by Abraham Palmer and Margaret Distler (a medical student who was also hooded in today’s ceremony) proved that the gene plays a role in anxiety, through a previously unknown activation of the brain’s GABA receptors. Lacy Schley of Medill Reports broke down the research in a brief video this week.


There are some actions, such as walking and breathing, that seem to happen almost automatically, without requiring active thought. These motor behaviors are often handled by networks of neurons called central pattern generators (CPGs) in the brain, which neuroscientists are still tinkering with to determine how they function. A study published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience from the laboratory of Kamal Sharma, associate professor of neurobiology, found that disabling a type of neuron known for its involvement in walking behavior also affected breathing in laboratory mice, indicating an overlap of the CPGs for these two important functions.

A group of researchers from the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics and the Department of Chemistry examine the function of a DNA repair protein called ALKBH2, which protects cells from certain types of genetic damage that can lead to cancer. The work appeared this week in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

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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