August 2016 Archives

Free expression and the role of universities

As you know, the open exchange of ideas and protecting freedom of expression is central to the values and identity of the University of Chicago.  The Kalven report and the report of a committee on academic freedom lead by Professor Geoffrey Stone are notable contributions to thinking on this topic.  This past week, the University received significant national attention following a letter to all incoming students in the College from Dean of Students Jay Ellison followed by an op-ed by President Zimmer (“Free speech is the basis of a true education”) in the Wall Street Journal on August 26.  These communications both took the position that University students need to be exposed to a wide range of ideas including ideas that are different to their own ideas and some of which may make them feel uncomfortable.  The responses that these communications received were passionate, largely strongly positive but some negative, and this is nicely summarized in an article in the New York Times. For those of you interested in a more complete history of academic freedom at the University of Chicago, I would encourage you to read an excellent monograph written by College Dean John Boyer (“Academic Freedom and the Modern University: The Experience of the University of Chicago.”).

Shaping the future of graduate medical education


I am very pleased that the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) has selected the University of Chicago Medicine as one of eight institutions to participate as a Pathway Innovator in its Pursuing Excellence in Clinical Learning Environments program. The Pursuing Excellence initiative is a four-year program aimed at transforming clinical learning environments where residents and fellows pursue training in their specialties.

As one of the Pathway Innovators, we will serve as a model for our peers and take a leadership role in shaping policies that will help transform graduate medical education. Our interest in this initiative stems from our desire to transform our clinical learning environment, and also to expose our residents to a health care delivery system that functions at the highest level.

The ACGME will provide funding for four years to allow our residents and nurses to build upon quality and safety initiatives already underway here at the University of Chicago.

“One of the biggest challenges with doing this type of work is that both residents and nurses have a lot of great ideas, but they often lack time and the ability to roll up their sleeves to execute,” said Vineet Arora, MD, MAPP, Director of GME Clinical Learning Environment Innovation. “This is where the grant comes in, to help pay for support resources to catalyze that work.”

Vinny has led a very talented team, whose members are listed below, that allowed us to secure this honor. I commend her work and that of her colleagues, whose vision of integrating graduate medical education with our ongoing quality and safety initiatives has made the University of Chicago an exemplar in shaping the future of patient care:

  • Jeanne Farnan, MD, MHPE, Assistant Dean of Curricular Development and Evaluation
  • Kristen Hirsch, Director of GME Operations, Accreditation, and Strategy and Innovation
  • Holly Humphrey, MD, Dean for Medical Education
  • Michael Simon, MD, Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education
  • Debra Albert, MSN, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, Chief Nursing Officer
  • Krista Curell, JD, RN, Vice President, Risk Management, Patient Safety & Compliance
  • Michael Howell, MD, MPH, Chief Quality Officer
  • Stephen Weber, MD, Chief Medical Officer

I look forward to further innovation to come from this initiative over the next four years.

Jocelyn Malamy begins new role as BSCD Master

malamy_jocelyn_1.jpgI look forward to collaborating closely with Jocelyn Malamy, PhD, who started July 1 as Master of the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division, Associate Dean of the Biological Sciences Division and Deputy Dean of the College. Jocelyn is a faculty member in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology. She is an esteemed teacher and colleague, and we are fortunate that she is willing to serve the College and Division in her new role.

Jocelyn has many ideas on ways to enhance the educational experience for undergraduates, including closer alignment of our departments with teaching in the College, a research requirement for all biology majors and creating new opportunities for undergraduates at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL).  Jocelyn is well recognized by students as an outstanding teacher and is a past recipient of the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

I’d also like to thank Laurie Mets for his many important contributions to undergraduate education during his term as Master of the College. During his tenure, the popularity of undergraduate biology has continued to increase and is the second most popular major amongst our college students.

Important study on house dust, immunity and asthma

Amish barn 2.jpg

Earlier this month, Carole Ober, PhD, and Anne Sperling, PhD, published a fascinating study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Carole has long studied the Hutterites in South Dakota, a farming community founded by immigrants from Central Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. They have similar genetic ancestry as the Amish of northern Indiana, and for the most part, share similar lifestyle. The study showed that their lifestyles differ in an important way that has implications for health.

The Amish rely on traditional farming methods, using horses for manual fieldwork, and live close to livestock on single-family farms. The Hutterites, however, use modern, industrial farm machinery, and live on large communal farms separate from the animals. Meanwhile, Amish children have much lower rates of asthma than Hutterite children, and much lower than the national average. Carole and Anne’s research, along with colleagues in Arizona and Germany, showed that the dust in homes of each community made the crucial difference. Due to the proximity to animals, dust in the Amish homes contained a much richer diversity of microbes that triggers innate immune system responses that protect against asthma.

This research shows the profound influence lifestyle and environmental influences can have on the development of asthma, and provides an exciting look at how the microbiome can impact human health and disease. I invite you to read more about their work at the Science Life blog.


Study advances understanding of how fins became fingers

Mouse digits, fish fin rays.jpg

In an interesting study published in Nature, Neil Shubin, PhD, and his research team show that the same cells that make fin rays in fish play a central role in forming the fingers and toes of four-legged creatures.

These findings followed three years of painstaking experiments using novel gene-editing techniques and sensitive fate mapping to label and track developing cells in fish. Postdoctoral scholar Tetsuya Nakamura, PhD, used the CRISPR/Cas gene-editing technique in zebrafish to delete important genes linked to limb-building, and then selectively bred zebrafish with multiple targeted deletions. Andrew Gehrke, PhD, a former graduate student, refined cell-labeling techniques to map out when and where specific embryonic cells migrated as the animals grew and developed. The researchers also used a high-energy CT scanner to see the minute structures within the adult zebrafish fin.

 “For years, scientists have thought that fin rays were completely unrelated to fingers and toes, utterly dissimilar because one kind of bone is initially formed out of cartilage and the other is formed in simple connective tissue,” Neil said in an interview for the Science Life blog, where you may read more about this research. “Our results change that whole idea. We now have a lot of things to rethink.”

This study and the study by Carole Ober and Anne Sperling discussed in the previous post were both featured on the front page of The New York Times in the month of August. This level of national attention enhances our research reputation, and also helps the public become more engaged in science. We congratulate Carole, Anne and Neil on their outstanding work.


Faculty members honored for excellence

I am pleased to share some of the prestigious honors — both institutional and external — awarded recently to our colleagues.

Maryellen Giger, PhD, adds to her recent string of honors with the 2016 EMBS Academic Career Achievement Award. The Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society recognized Maryellen with its annual award for her outstanding and pioneering contributions to computer-aided diagnosis.

Two BSD faculty members received awards from the University for their outstanding contributions as teachers and mentors. Daniel McGehee, PhD, received a 2016 Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. Nicholas Hatsopoulos, PhD, was awarded a 2016 Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring.

Finally, two of our colleagues— Michael Howell, MD, MPH, and Stacy Tessler Lindau, MD, MAPP — have been named to the second class of the Aspen Institute’s Health Innovator Fellows program.  The fellowship was created in 2015 to strengthen the leadership of innovators across the U.S. health care system and to connect, inspire, and challenge them to create new approaches that will improve the health and well-being of all Americans. It is extremely unusual to have two fellows chosen from the same institution in one year.

Please join me in congratulating them. 

New undergraduate major in neuroscience

Peggy Mason, PhD, professor of neurobiology

Peggy Mason, PhD, professor of neurobiology and director of the new undergraduate major in neuroscience at the University of Chicago

The Grossman Institute for Neuroscience, Quantitative Biology and Human Behavior has led the effort to develop a new undergraduate major in neuroscience, the first undergraduate major in addition to biology in the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division.  Although administered in the BSD, the major will be highly interdisciplinary, spanning the full range of neuroscience disciplines in the physical sciences, social sciences and biological sciences.  The exciting curriculum will offer a broad foundation in neuroscience and provide students interested in graduate school, medical school, data science or biotechnology. The College Council voted unanimously in May to approve the new major.

John Boyer, Dean of the College, and I are both delighted that this has occurred.  We would particularly like to acknowledge the roles played by John Maunsell, PhD, and Ruth Anne Eatock, PhD, in leading the effort to get this major established and also thank Peggy Mason, PhD, for her willingness to direct the program.  I am confident that the neuroscience major will help attract additional outstanding students to the University of Chicago.