LabBook August 10, 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.

This week the entire University of Chicago community mourned the death of Donald Liu, MD, PhD, section chief of pediatric surgery and surgeon-in-chief at the University of Chicago Medicine’s Comer Children’s Hospital. He drowned on Sunday, Aug. 5, while attempting to rescue two children who were caught in a strong current while kayaking in Lake Michigan near the town of Lakeside, Mich. He was 50 years old. Dr. Liu was an internationally-renowned pediatric surgeon who saved countless lives in the operating room, and was a prolific researcher specializing in Hirschsprung’s disease, the pathogenesis of necrotizing enterocolitis and the importance of gut bacteria in health and disease. He will be greatly missed.


Each year there are nearly 100,000 people on the waiting list for deceased donor kidneys, but only about 11,000 receive one. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) has been trying to revise its policy for allocated donor kidneys to make the system more efficient for years, but so far none of the proposals have addressed the problem completely. Lainie Ross, Richard Thistlethwaite, Will Parker, and their colleagues recently published their own proposal to make the kidney allocation system more fair and efficient by taking a cue from the game of cricket.

There’s no question we’re facing an epidemic of obesity in the United States, and that it’s undoubtedly connected to the abundance of unhealthy food. But do people overeat because we’re hardwired by evolution to consume as many calories as we can swallow, or are we addicted to the taste of modern junk food? A research team led by Jeff Beeler and Xiaoxi Zhuang looked at how the taste of natural sugars and artificial sweeteners affect the release of dopamine in the brain, to see whether taste or calories are a stronger motivator in compulsive overeating.

As a kid I could never understand why my parents worked so hard to eat grapefruit, cutting them in half and scooping out sections with those funny little curved knives. I said the sour taste gave me “the shivers.” Besides picky kids, people taking medications often avoid grapefruit juice too because it can increase the blood levels of some drugs and lead to overdose. But Ezra Cohen and his team took advantage of this med-boosting quality of grapefruit juice to amplify the power of a promising cancer drug. They found that taking sirolimus with a glass of grapefruit juice boosted the blood levels of the drug to its optimal cancer-fighting strength while avoiding its unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects.


Sleep research has a long history at the University of Chicago, beginning in 1925 when the world’s first sleep lab opened on campus. Since then researchers here have discovered REM sleep, studied the origins of narcolepsy and investigated the causes of insomnia and sleep apnea. This feature article on the university website takes a look at the work of Eve Van Cauter, David Gozal and researchers across many disciplines trying to make sure we all get a good night’s sleep.

This week Lou Philipson, director of the Kovler Diabetes Center, also provided commentary on a recent Wall Street Journal article about how type 1 diabetes can sometimes be missed in an adult thought to have type 2. He points out that while type 1 diabetes usually does occur in children, it can strike patients at any age, and stressed the need for patients to be aware of all forms of the disease, regardless of age.

About Matt Wood (531 Articles)
Matt Wood is a senior science writer and manager of communications at the University of Chicago Medicine & Biological Sciences Division.
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