February 2017 Archives

Potential impact of changes being proposed in Washington DC

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As you are aware, the new administration is proposing sweeping changes in a variety of areas that affect the lives of all Americans. The new directions on immigration and health care policy and financing are of particular importance to the University of Chicago, the BSD and UCMC.   President Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration and the Affordable Care Act have the potential to have a negative impact on patient care, teaching and discovery at our institution and academic medical centers nationwide.

Faculty, students, residents, fellows and other colleagues from all over the world make invaluable contributions to the rich and exciting intellectual environment at the University of Chicago.  We are deeply committed to maintaining a diverse community in which people from many countries with different cultures and religions and with differing points of view can work together to address important issues.  As an immigrant myself, who was allowed to come to the United States because I was fortunate enough to qualify for a green card, I have a deep personal sense of the importance of fair and consistent immigration policies. International graduates play a critical role in U.S. health care, representing approximately 25 percent of the workforce and often caring for patients in rural and underserved urban communities, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Leading-edge biomedical research depends on international scientific cooperation and our ability to attract the best minds from around the world to work in our laboratories and in our clinics.  

Communications from President Zimmer and Provost Diermeier to University faculty, students, and staff and to President Trump emphasize our belief in the importance of a welcoming stance to immigrants and the talent and energy they bring. We are fully committed to the values articulated in these messages.  An additional communication from Dean Humphrey and me focused on international residents and fellows who come to the University of Chicago Medicine for clinical and research training.

The executive order of January 20 instructing federal agencies to "waive, defer, grant exemptions from or delay" any part of the Affordable Care Act that imposes a financial or regulatory burden is creating uncertainty in the insurance marketplace and among patients and providers. We have been working diligently to communicate our views to elected officials in Washington and in Springfield and are participating in efforts coordinated by the AAMC in conjunction with deans and hospital presidents across the country. Our position is summarized in an op-ed that I wrote that was published in Crain’s Chicago Business. Our central message is to emphasize the importance of access to health care for all our citizens and of providing adequate funding for both patients and health care providers to ensure that this occurs.

The impact of our focus on patient care quality and safety

In recent years, UCMC has maintained a singular focus on improving the quality and safety of the care that we provide to our patients.  This has been a broad- based effort involving faculty, trainees at all levels and hospital staff lead by Stephen Weber, Michael Howell, Krista Curell and Sharon O’Keefe. Our consistent overall safety score as judged by the Leapfrog Group, incorporating more than 30 safety measures, places us in the top 2 percent of U.S. hospitals.  We recently received a 2016 Top Academic Hospitals Award, described as “an elite national distinction given to hospitals with the highest quality in the nation.” UCM is one of only 29 hospitals, and the only major academic medical center in Illinois, to receive the award.

We perform extremely well relative to peers in a range of important metrics, including readmissions, avoidance of causing harm to patients, incidence of cardiac arrest, central line infections, preventing blood clots and reducing the need for blood transfusions.  In addition, objective measures of service in the emergency room and the patient experience have improved substantially. These results should be a source of great institutional pride because they indicate, from the standpoint of quality and safety, we are in the top-performing group of hospitals nationally.

Opening a level 1 trauma center

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Our plans to open a level 1 trauma center in 2018 took a major step forward with the recruitment of Selwyn Rogers, Jr., MD, MPH, as the founding director. Selwyn joined our faculty in January 2017 and is leading the recruitment of additional trauma faculty and building the team to support the program, developing the policies and protocols, and establishing a culture that will deliver trauma care of the highest quality.  

Under Dr. Rogers leadership, our trauma center — in addition to providing outstanding care to victims of trauma — will be positioned to make important contributions to our understanding of violence as a public health problem and to develop novel approaches to slowing the epidemic of violence that is plaguing our city.

Proposed new Committee on Quantitative Research Methods

Advances in quantitative methods underlie the growth in knowledge across many disciplines. Yet historically, research and education in quantitative methods has occurred primarily within the disciplines.

To address these issues, UChicago scientists from the BSD and the Division of the Social Sciences interested in statistics and quantitative methods established a quantitative research methodology workshop as a venue for building an intellectual community of colleagues who share methodological interests.  Since 2012, workshop participants have met approximately four times per quarter to discuss working papers and to brainstorm solutions to methodological problems encountered in ongoing research. Participants have included faculty members, researchers, and students from a broad range of disciplines, as well as the National Opinion Research Center, the Consortium for Chicago School Research, and colleagues from the University of Illinois in Chicago.

These efforts have been very successful and are now being advanced to the stage of becoming a University-wide committee to improve the quality of quantitative research and research training in social and behavioral sciences, health, education and related fields. Core members of the proposed Committee on Quantitative Research Methods from the BSD include Don Hedeker, Ron Thisted, Andre Rzhetsky and Robert Gibbons. The Committee on Quantitative Research Methods will stimulate original methodological thinking, train a new generation of methodological leaders, and launch exciting new joint ventures across the disciplines. It will also improve research training for a broad range of students who wish to become proficient in using available quantitative methods. For more information, visit qrm.uchicago.edu.    

Paleontology discoveries uncover ancient history of vertebrates

Michael Coates, professor of organismal biology and anatomy, published a study in Nature recently that sheds light on the early evolutionary history of vertebrates. Mike and his colleagues performed CT scans of the fossilized skull of a 280-million-year-old, shark-like fish found in the Karoo sediments of South Africa. The fossil was thought to belong to an early type of shark, but the scans revealed that the interior of the skull showed telltale structures of modern day chimaeras, an odd, deep water-dwelling group of cartilaginous fish related to sharks.

Chimaeras have long fascinated biologists because their bodies include features of sharks, ray-finned fishes and tetrapods. Modern day chimaeras have extremely slow-evolving genomes as well, and seem to offer the best promise of finding an archive of information about conditions close to the last common ancestor of humans and a Great White. But their odd anatomy and relative scarcity of intact fossils have made it difficult to place them on the evolutionary tree. Thanks to innovative use of modern technology by Mike and his team, we now have a better understanding of our shared past with these fascinating creatures.

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Prestigious faculty and student awards

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Bernard Roizman, the Joseph Regenstein Distinguished Service Professor of Virology in the Departments of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology, received the National Academy of Sciences’ 2017 Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology for “his many seminal contributions to understanding the mechanisms by which herpes viruses replicate and cause disease.” The award will be presented in April.

Michaela Gack, Associate Professor of in the Department of Microbiology, received a 2017 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science. The prizes were established “to encourage and support young immigrants who have already demonstrated exceptional achievements, and who often face significant challenges early in their careers.” Michaela, a native of Germany, is studying how the intricate interplay between viruses and the host's immune system impacts the outcome of viral infection and disease.

Thomas Gajewski, Professor in the Department of Medicine and the Ben May Cancer Institute, has been awarded an Outstanding Investigator Award by the National Cancer Institute. These awards support scientists who demonstrate remarkable productivity in cancer research. The award guarantees $600,000 in direct costs per year for seven years, providing financial stability to encourage investigators to take on long-term projects with significant potential. Tom is a pioneer in the field of cancer immunotherapy.

Vineet Arora, Associate Professor of Medicine and Assistant Dean for Scholarship and Discovery, was elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation, an honor society of physician-scientists who translate findings in the laboratory to advance clinical practice. Vinny has made seminal contributions to the understanding of optimizing patient handoffs and managing resident fatigue during long shifts. She will be inducted in April.

Four colleagues have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. The 2016 Fellows are: Geoffrey Greene, the Virginia and D. K. Ludwig Professor and Chair of the Ben May Department for Cancer Research; Zhe-Xi Luo, Professor in Organismal Biology and Anatomy; Clifton Ragsdale, Professor in Neurobiology and Organismal Biology and Anatomy; and Jonathan Staley, Professor in Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology. The new Fellows will be honored later this month at the AAAS meeting in Boston.

Paul Chang, Professor of Radiology, has received the Radiological Society of North America’s highest honor, the Gold Medal. An internationally recognized expert in the field of imaging informatics, he was a pioneer in creating rapid methods of moving digital radiology images and led many research and development projects related to imaging informatics and enterprise-wide informatics challenges.

Sarah Cobey, Assistant Professor in Ecology and Evolution, was awarded the Neubauer Faculty Development Fellowship in the College for 2016-2017.  The fellowship recognizes assistant and associate professors in the College’s instructional programs for effective teaching and mentorship.

I would also like to recognize third-year Pritzker student Santiago Diaz, one of five students in the country awarded an AAMC Herbert W. Nickens Medical Student Scholarship. The scholarship, awarded by the AAMC, aims to advance Dr. Nicken’s “lifelong commitment to supporting the educational, society, and health care needs of racial and ethnic minorities.” Santiago was chosen for his accomplishments both within and outside of the classroom regarding the elimination of health care disparities.

Please join me in congratulating them.

New named and distinguished professors in BSD

Erin Adams is the Joseph Regenstein Professor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the College. Her research focuses on how events at the molecular level allow the immune system to discriminate healthy tissue from infected or diseased tissue. Robert L. Grossman has been named the Frederick H. Rawson Professor in Medicine and the College. Bob is the principal investigator for the NCI Genomic Data Commons, a next-generation platform that enables unprecedented data access, analysis and sharing for cancer research. J. Keith Moffat is the Louis Block Distinguished Service Professor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the College. He pioneered the development and use of time-resolved X-ray crystallography to understand the short-lived structural changes that accompany all biochemical and chemical reactions and is a key collaborator in a novel set of X-ray experiments revealing how proteins absorb light.

Video on UChicago octopus research wins Emmy

In December, a feature video produced by UChicago Creative’s Anthony Penta won a 2016 Chicago/Midwest Region Emmy for Outstanding Achievement for Informational/Instructional Programming. The segment looks at the work of Cliff Ragsdale, professor of neurobiology, and graduate students Carrie Albertin and Yan Wang as they study one of the most extraordinary creatures on the planet.

In 2015, Cliff and his team sequenced the genome of the California two-spot octopus, the first cephalopod ever to be fully sequenced. They found striking differences from other invertebrates, including a dramatic expansion of a gene family involved in nervous system development that was once thought to be unique to vertebrates. This work demonstrates the breadth of research taking place in the Biological Sciences Division, from clinical trials that directly impact patient care to quite literally the depths of the oceans. I’m pleased that Cliff’s work and the creative efforts to promote it have been recognized.

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Medical Center honors

I am proud to note that the University of Chicago Medical Center was selected to receive the Voluntary MBE/WBE Program of Year award from the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA). This prestigious award recognizes the medical center’s work with minority- and women-owned business enterprises under the leadership of Joan Archie, Executive Director of Construction Compliance. Minority- and women-owned businesses are integral to our long-term goals and we are proud to work with these firms to help drive economic opportunity in our community. Congratulations to Joan and other members of our Facilities, Planning Design and Construction group led by Marco Capicchioni. FPD&C also received the Project of the Year award in the category of New Construction/Suburbs (above $20 million) from the Construction Industry Service Corporation (CISCO) for the Center for Advanced Care at Orland Park.  

The University of Chicago Medicine is the first Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Care Center in Illinois to be recognized by the Pulmonary Hypertension Association’s accreditation program. The goal of the program is to improve outcomes for patients with pulmonary hypertension, a debilitating disease of the circulation of the lung. Accreditation means a program meets a set of criteria established by the PHA’s Scientific Leadership Council and the PHCC Oversight Committee, which is composed of global leaders in the field of pulmonary hypertension.