LabBook July 20, 2012

Dr. Joseph Kirsner, 1909-2012

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.


Thanks to the internet, people can now do almost anything from banking to watching movies on their home computer or even their phones. Yet when it comes to medical images such as X-rays or MRI scans, patients are still required to transport a CD or DVD between doctors’ offices like it’s the 90’s or something. Matt Wood spoke to professor of radiology Paul Chang about a national pilot project conducted in part at the University of Chicago that is attempting to create an “Instagram” for medical image sharing, using the power of the cloud to make these files easier to transfer.

One element of the Affordable Care Act that has been overshadowed by the debate over the insurance mandate is the creation of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation, which was entrusted to fund nearly $1 billion in projects looking for more cost-effective ways of delivering health care. The University of Chicago Medicine was proud to receive two of those grants: Stacy Tessler Lindau’s CommunityRx program, and David Meltzer’s comprehensive care physician model. The latter program looks to save money by creating more coherent care for the most expensive U.S. patients, those at highest risk of hospitalization, by creating a new kind of physician that resembles a famous one from classic television history.

The billions of neuronal connections in the human brain are in constant flux, growing stronger or weaker to encode learning and memory in a process known as synaptic plasticity. The neurobiology laboratory of Christian Hansel is studying a new form of these changes, called intrinsic plasticity, in an area of the brain called the cerebellum. Learn how the dendrites of a neuron are like the tracks of a sound mixing board.

The scientific promise of biobank research — where blood, tissue samples, and health data are collected to study disease — is immense. But the researchers who conduct these studies and the patients who contribute their samples and medical information have very different perspectives on biobank research, a project led by Lainie Ross and a graduate student from the University of Chicago Department of Anthropology discovered. An in-depth survey of 45 South Side residents found that many wanted to know about potential medical problems the research revealed about themselves and their children, even if that information was ambiguous.

It’s rare to find good news about methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the dangerous “superbug” which has jumped over the last decade from hospital infection to community-acquired disease. But a study released earlier this month offered some optimism, showing that MRSA infection rates decreased among Department of Defense personnel from 2005 to 2010. However, MRSA remains a serious threat, according to a trio of studies from University of Chicago researchers that found an increase in infections at academic medical centers during a similar timeframe, elevated costs, and more MRSA on household surfaces.


We were sad this week about the passing of Joseph Kirsner, a legend at the University of Chicago Medicine. Dr. Kirsner, who joined the hospital staff in 1935, was a major figure in the field of gastroenterology — in fact, a major reason why it was considered to be a field at all. Over more than seven decades of research and clinical work, Kirsner made significant contributions to the medical understanding of conditions such as stomach ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease. “He was here for two lifetimes,” said Eugene Chang. “He’s an icon in the field. Everyone knows him. He’s been a key player nationwide for so long that even those who have worked with him for decades only know pieces of his career. I’m not sure where the field would be without him. He was at the beginning of everything.” [Obituaries from the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, and the American Gastroenterological Association.]

The Radiology Department also lost a scientific luminary last week, as Charles Metz, a pioneer in the field of medical imaging, passed away on July 4th. Metz joined the faculty in 1969, and used his background in physics and mathematics to develop new ways to improve the resolution of medical images, including a commonly used parameter named for him: the Metz filter. “Charles was a true scientist, educator and mentor of the highest caliber,” said Maryellen Giger, professor and vice chair for basic science research in the Department of Radiology. “He was one of the giants in elucidating the mathematical foundations of imaging science.” [Obituary from the Chicago Tribune.]

It’s been over 40 years since the National Cancer Act signed by President Richard Nixon launched the “War on Cancer.” Three University of Chicago Medicine cancer researchers, covering the spectrum from the laboratory (Marsha Rosner) to the clinic (John Cunningham, Ezra Cohen), appeared on The Milt Rosenberg Show for an extended discussion of where this battle currently stands.

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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