LabBook 9/7/2012

Our New Hospital Pavilion, as seen from behind the DuSable Museum in Chicago

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.


Cancerous tumors in the bladder are hard to detect. Even when using a tiny camera to peer around inside, doctors still find more tumors 30-40% of the time on a second look six weeks later. To help shine a light on these evasive tumors, Gary Steinberg, MD, and his team here are using a new tool that highlights cancerous cells in the bladder with fluorescent dye, making them easier to find and begin treating the cancer as early as possible.

Cancer treatments have long targeted a cell receptor called HER-2, which is highly expressed in the most aggressive and malignant forms of breast cancer. But sometimes drugs such as Herceptin that target the HER-2 molecule eventually lose their effectiveness. Using a new, more sensitive method to analyze protein interactions, Richard Jones and his team discovered that a sibling to the HER-2 receptor, HER-3, also plays an important role driving tumor growth. The HER-3 receptor can now be targeted for cancer treatments in patients whose cancer has resisted standard HER-2 inhibitors.


Addressing health care disparities, or differences in the quality of medical care, access to providers and cost of care among minorities, is one of the most pressing issues facing the medical community. A team led by Marshall Chin published a report in the August issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine that laid out a six-step road map to guide health care providers working to implement meaningful and effective solutions in their patient communities. An article in American Medical News provides a great overview of the project.

Bronchial thermoplasty is a treatment for asthma, in which doctors use a bronchoscope to heat the patient’s lungs to shrink the smooth muscle lining the airways that constricts breathing. It’s highly effective, but also very expensive. In an article in the New York Times, Kyle Hogarth, who has been involved in clinical trials of bronchial thermoplasty, says that unfortunately while asthma affects millions of Americans, this treatment will only be available to the most severe cases because of its prohibitive cost.

Remember two weeks ago when I wrote about how decoding the human genome hasn’t quite led to the genetic causes of common disease? Whether that was a fair expectation or not, this week scientists took a big step toward that goal. Over the past 10 years, a team of 442 researchers, including Kevin White from our department of human genetics and the Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology, has been cataloguing every bit of the genome and what it does. The results of this project, called ENCODE—or the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements—were published as 30 papers this week in three journals. Researchers used to called the vast majority of genetic material “junk DNA,” because it doesn’t have an active role creating proteins that are the building blocks of the body. But the ENCODE project showed that 80 percent of this part of the genome actually is doing important work helping the more functional bits of DNA. As journalist Ed Yong put it in this piece for Discover Magazine, the project “has moved us from ‘Here’s the genome’ towards ‘Here’s what the genome does’.

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.
%d bloggers like this: