LabBook July 6, 2012

Welcome to LabBook, our 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.


Everyone has awkward memories of sex education classes as a kid, where the embarrassment tended to get in the way of much actual learning. Could an interactive video game do a better job? A collaboration between faculty from the Medical Center and the University is trying to find out through a program called Game Changer Chicago. Their first game, called Stork, was a success, and the team is now looking to expand into Africa with their next effort.

Brain death is one of the most important diagnoses a physician must make, and it requires a firm grasp of both medical tests and communication skills. To give physicians practice at handling this delicate situation, Jeffrey Frank and colleagues at the University of Chicago Medicine and NorthShore University HealthSystem developed a unique simulation workshop, using mannequins, actors, national experts and more to teach all dimensions of brain death. The curriculum is currently being considered as a model for similar programs around the world, as medical experts attempt to make standardize the process of diagnosing brain death.


When methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as the “superbug” MRSA, makes the news, it’s usually for scary reasons. A rare exception turned up this week, as news outlets including the Huffington Post, CNBC, and the Chicago Tribune reported on a study in JAMA that found a decrease in MRSA infections among military personnel. Michael David, assistant professor of medicine, commented on the study and advised against declaring victory against MRSA just yet. “Those are very serious infections with a mortality rate of 20 percent,” David told Reuters. “The fact that those are going away is very welcome news.” [More in a recent study of MRSA rates and costs on the blog next week.]

In the dense terminology of the DSM, the psychiatrist’s handbook for clinical diagnosis, an extremely bad temper is known as intermittent explosive disorder, with the very appropriate acronym IED. In the new, fifth edition of the DSM, currently under review by the American Psychiatric Association, IED is only considered to be a proper diagnosis for people above the age of 18. But a new study from Harvard University found that as many as 1 out of 12 teenagers show behavior consistent with a diagnosis of IED. Emil Coccaro, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience and an expert on IED not involved in this particular study, said that the results call the DSM criteria into question. “This is still up for discussion, and the new study clearly shows a young age of onset,” Cocarro told the Boston Globe.

Viruses take over cells by acting as living syringes, injecting their DNA into an unsuspecting cellular victim to turn them into zombie virus factories. By modifying a classic cell biology protocol known as the Hershey-Chase experiment (it has nothing do with chocolate, sorry), researchers at CalTech were able to measure the speed with which this viral DNA injection occurs. The speed gun was wielded in part by David Wu, now an internal medicine resident with the University of Chicago Medicine, who conducted some of the research as a graduate student at Caltech and is a lead author on the study published in Current Biology.


With the thermometer spending a lot of time in the triple digits in Chicago and elsewhere this week, many articles appeared on how the heat (plus the accompanying drought, fires and extreme storms) are a glimpse at climate changes still to come. Early last year (in the middle of a record blizzard, ironically) we wrote about how environmental conditions as subtle as sitting in a warm room can change people’s opinions on climate change. And if you want a glimpse of how life on Earth will evolve in response to changing climate conditions, you can look to the the small flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana, studied by the laboratory of Joy Bergelson, chair of the Department of Ecology & Evolution.

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.
%d bloggers like this: