Monthly archives: August, 2015

Prostate ‘organoid’ hints at how early BPA exposure may increase cancer risk

Prostate organoid derived from human embryonic stem cells. Photo: Gail Prins.

Prostate organoid derived from human embryonic stem cells. Photo: Gail Prins.

A first-of-its kind prostate ‘organoid’ grown from human embryonic stem cells has enabled researchers to show that exposure to bisphenol A, a chemical in many plastics, can cause overproduction of prostate stem cells in the developing organ — and thus may increase men’s risk of prostate cancer.

About a millimeter in size, the prostate organoid is coaxed into being from cultured human embryonic stem cells. Its 3-D structure resembles a prostate in miniature, and it has all the biomarkers found in the actual adult organ.

When researchers exposed the developing organoid to BPA, an additive used to soften plastic and found in everything from water bottles to carbonless receipts, the organoid grew an overabundance of prostate stem cells in ‘nests’ throughout the tissue.

“The higher number of stem cells we saw in developing organoids given very low doses of BPA may be the underlying mechanism by which BPA increases the risk for prostate cancer,” said Gail Prins, professor of physiology in the UIC College of Medicine and director of UIC’s andrology laboratory, who led the study.

Stem cells divide infrequently, but they may last a lifetime, carrying forward any abnormalities to all the tissues they give rise to. In theory, the more stem cells an organ has, the greater the risk of mutations that could cause the tissue to turn cancerous.

The new findings support Prins’ previous research. The work is published online in the journal PLOS ONE.

UIC Schweitzer Fellows

L-R: Sarah Wagener, Iqra Mushtaq and Hannah Riley, students in the School of Public Health, are among nine UIC health sciences graduate students named Albert Schweitzer fellows. - See more at:

L-R: Sarah Wagener, Iqra Mushtaq and Hannah Riley, students in the School of Public Health, are among nine UIC health sciences graduate students named Albert Schweitzer fellows.

Nine graduate students in the health sciences will work to make the world a better place next year as Albert Schweitzer fellows.

The students — from the School of Public Health, Jane Addams College of Social Work and the colleges of Nursing, Medicine, Dentistry and Applied Health Sciences — will work with Chicago-area community organizations to develop service projects that address health disparities in under-resourced communities.

The students, their projects and community groups are:

Actress Bartlett, social work, American Friends Service Committee: SoBu (Social Business) Artist Project with college interns mentoring high school and middle school students to create and sell mosaic art, silk screen T-shirts and bags

Darshana Bhattacharyya, medicine, Thresholds Young Mothers Project: bimonthly workshops on well-being, self-empowerment and disease management for young mothers and families affected by severe mental illness

Nisha Garg, dentistry, Jesse Brown VA Medical Center: oral health classes for veterans

Megan Gordon, nursing, Christopher House: childbirth education for pregnant teens for better birth outcomes

Rachel Gottfredsen Gage, nursing, YMCA of Metro Chicago: health education classes for aging adults

Elizabeth Harrison, occupational therapy, Heartland Alliance: community group for LGBT refugees and those who have come to the U.S. seeking asylum

Iqra Mushtaq, public health, Heartland International Health Centers: heart disease risk-reduction workshops for refugee and immigrant South Asian women

Hannah Riley, social work and public health, Health Justice Project: creating healthy homes for low-income tenants, avoiding environmental health dangers such as lead poisoning, mold and infestations

Sarah Wagener, public health, Storycatchers Theatre Changing Voices: helping formerly incarcerated adolescents learn positive decision-making through musical theater writing and performing.

Online Tool Measures Access to Jobs, Schools, Parks and More

The Metropolitan Chicago Accessibility Explorer maps jobs in the nine-county area and other resources in Chicago. (Select image to download larger file size

The Metropolitan Chicago Accessibility Explorer maps jobs in the nine-county area and other resources in Chicago. (Select image to download larger file size

Urban planners and policymakers in an eight-county Chicago region have a new digital means to measure access to key resources by transit, car, bicycle or walking.

The Metropolitan Chicago Accessibility Explorer is a map-based tool developed by researchers in the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Planners can use it to identify areas that need greater access to jobs, schools, grocery stores, hospitals, parks, libraries and fire stations. The public can use it free of charge. It can be accessed here.

The data and visuals cover Cook, DuPage, Lake, Kendall, Will, McHenry, Kane and Grundy counties.

“We aim to provide a tool that planners can readily use to evaluate how well the transportation system is connecting people to activity locations,” said Nebiyou Tilahun, assistant professor of urban planning and policy, who developed the site. “It’s had hundreds of visits already from users, including some in Europe and South America.”

Drop-down options lead to visual displays of the number of jobs in specific industries, public and private schools, and other resources a resident can reach from a specified location, within a selected amount of time, using various modes of transportation. Job data can be refined by filters to indicate jobs held by persons of varying age, gender, race, ethnicity, education level and earnings.

A search for accessible schools can be refined by choosing public, private, or either. Access to parks can be measured by the number of parks or the area of parkland.

“Similar tools exist, but I haven’t seen anything this interactive, particularly focused on Chicago,” Tilahun said.

When the user selects a transportation option, search results indicate the number and percentage of the selected resource (jobs in the eight-county area, or other resources in Chicago only) that can be reached within the specified time from each location. To measure access from a location, the user waits for the map to load, then hovers the cursor over the location. A pop-up tells the number and percentage of accessible resources in the chosen category.

Each location is identified by its Census block group number — the smallest area for which the Census Bureau releases some types of data used in the Accessibility Explorer.

To develop the tool, Tilahun and a team of graduate students worked for more than a year to measure travel times for each mode; collect land-use data from federal, state, county and local governments and agencies; and integrate the data for easy interpretation. The data are the latest available from the Census Bureau and other federal and local agencies.

The project was funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Metropolitan Transportation Support Initiative at UIC and the National Center for Transit Research.

The UIC Urban Transportation Center provides research, education and technical assistance on urban transportation planning, policy, operations and management. It is part of the UIC College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, a nationally recognized innovator in education, research, and engagement in support of the nation’s cities and metropolitan areas.

Grant helps low-income asthmatic children breathe easier

A five-year, $3.2 million federal grant to the University of Illinois at Chicago in partnership with Erie Family Health Center will examine the effectiveness of two interventions to improve asthma control for children in low-income families in Chicago.

Despite environmental laws that have improved air quality — and asthma medications that can reduce symptoms and halt attacks — the number of children with asthma continues to rise in the U.S., disproportionately affecting children in low-income households. In parts of Chicago, one in four children has asthma, the number-one reason for missing school.

“The use of certified asthma educators is currently the ‘gold standard’ for the educational component of asthma care, yet we do not know how much certified asthma educators actually improve asthma outcomes,” said Dr. Molly Martin, a pediatrician at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System and the principal investigator on the project. Community health workers, she said, have been shown to improve asthma outcomes in past research studies, but “haven’t been tested in real-world settings.”

“One of our goals is to see how community health workers can be best incorporated into

Erie Family Health Center, founded on Erie Street in Chicago in 1957, is a community health center that provides compassionate, health care services. Serving more than 63,000 medical patients and 9,500 dental patients via 250,000 visits at 13 centers throughout the city and surrounding suburbs, Erie delivers high-quality, culturally-competent, bi-lingual, comprehensive primary medical and dental care that responds to the needs of each community. Erie’s highly skilled providers, innovative partnerships and forward-thinking approach make it a national leader for the provision of community-based health care.


UIC nationally ranked second for online degree programs

Online Degree Programs at UIC

The University of Illinois at Chicago’s online bachelor’s degree programs continue to rise.

According to the latest rankings in U.S. News & World Report, two of UIC’s online programs – in nursing and health information management – are second in the nation, up from ninth last year and 18th in 2013. UIC tied for second in overall online programs with Western Kentucky University and Daytona State College in Florida.

U.S. News & World Report ranked more than 200 programs based on criteria including student engagement, faculty credentials and training, peer reputation, and student services and technology. Thirty-two students are enrolled this semester. The online degree, started in 2012, complements the campus-based program, which began in 1965.

“Our online program provides a viable option for those students who, due to work or personal life requirements, are unable to attend a traditional campus program,” Patena said. Students are taught by the same faculty who teach on campus.

“Our students receive the same high-quality education as students who sit in a classroom,” said Catherine Tredway, clinical instructor and academic director. “They can set their own pace to complete the degree, allowing them to successfully manage their studies, career and personal life.”

Annie Brooker was enjoying her 15-year career as a staff nurse in Advocate Christ Hospital’s intensive care unit, but she wanted more. While juggling her responsibilities as a mother to five children, she returned to school in 2011 to obtain a bachelor of science degree. She extensively researched several programs, and decided UIC’s online curriculum was the best fit for her.

“It really worked well with my schedule,” said Brooker, who believes that her recent promotion to clinical nurse educator for Advocate Christ’s medical and cardiac intensive care unit was due in part to receiving her bachelor’s degree last spring. “The courses really prepared me for my new position. “The way the coursework is presented is very interesting and user-friendly. The educators are there to help you succeed. I really enjoyed the program and would highly recommend it.”

UIC, Mexico City formalize academic, cultural partnership

  Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano, right, Mexico City secretary of foreign affairs, and Michael Redding, UIC executive associate chancellor for public and government affairs, sign an agreement for cultural and academic collaboration. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano, right, Mexico City secretary of foreign affairs, and Michael Redding, UIC executive associate chancellor for public and government affairs, sign an agreement for cultural and academic collaboration. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

UIC and Mexico City have signed an agreement for a new academic and cultural partnership that could include faculty and student exchanges, research and education.

“This opens a very wide possibility for fruitful collaboration,” said Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano, Mexico City secretary of foreign affairs.

The agreement, which formally established the five-year partnership, was signed by Cárdenas and Michael Redding, executive associate chancellor for public and government affairs.

Cárdenas is former head of Government of the Federal District (Mexico City) and a founder of the Party of the Democratic Revolution. He was accompanied by representatives from Mexico City USA, a trade, tourism and cultural promotion initiative to connect Los Angeles and Chicago with Mexico City.

More than 25 people gathered at University Hall June 26 for the signing, hosted by the UIC Office of International Affairs. UIC faculty and staff described research, exchanges and cultural programs that could benefit from the new agreement. Also highlighted was UIC’s status as a Hispanic-serving institution and its efforts aiding Latino students’ access to higher education.

The UIC group included representatives of the Latin American and Latino studies program, Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services, the Inter-University Program for Latino Research, Great Cities Initiative, College of Medicine and Academic and Enrollment Services.

Cárdenas’ visit to UIC was part of a trip to make connections in business, tourism, health and education in Chicago and Los Angeles. While in town he met with business and government officials, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel.


UIC research reaches around the world

New Scholarships Help North Lawndale Students Pay for College

Paying for college will be a little easier for some UIC students thanks to the Phoenix Pact, a scholarship program for North Lawndale College Prep graduates.

UIC is among 15 colleges and universities invited to join the pact, which promises to cover any remaining college costs after students receive financial aid from federal, state and institutional grants, work-study and federal loans. The Urbana-Champaign campus is also participating in the program.

“Too often our graduates settle for colleges that haven’t had much success with low-income and minority students because they can’t pay the $2,000 to $3,000 extra that it costs to go to the more successful colleges,” North Lawndale College Prep president John Horan said.  “The Phoenix Pact changes that. It makes college choice cost-neutral.”

Three of the 40 Phoenix Pact scholarship recipients plan to enroll at UIC this fall, said Susan Farruggia, assistant vice provost for undergraduate affairs.

“We know based on research that the two primary reasons for students not returning in the second year are academic and financial aid issues,” she said. “For these students, the program is managing well one of the two major barriers that our students face.”

To receive the scholarship, students must attend a college or university that has a successful track record of graduating minority students.

“Our part of the pact is to ensure that students receive the support that they need — that they have access to and know about all of the support services on campus,” Farruggia said.

UIC’s Student Success Initiative, which identifies ways to help students graduate on time, is one way UIC will uphold its end of the pact to help minority students earn their diploma, Farruggia said.

The Office of First-Year Student Initiatives will work with alumni coordinators from North Lawndale College Prep to help students overcome the challenges they face in college, she said.

“UIC being asked to be one of North Lawndale College Prep’s partners reflects their acknowledgement that UIC is a great place to send their students to college,” Farruggia said. “It really highlights the good work that UIC is doing to support our students.”

Minor in social justice to focus on equality, inequality

Social Justice Minor

A new minor in social justice, beginning fall semester, will study issues of equality and inequality in society.

The minor will be offered in the gender and women’s studies program, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“UIC students have long been at the forefront of critical social justice movements in Chicago and beyond,” said Jennifer Brier, associate professor and director of gender and women’s studies.

“We hope that this interdisciplinary minor will provide all students, no matter their major or college, with a critical understanding of justice and equality as well as inequality and marginality, and the struggles to redress them.”

Students in the minor, which requires a total of 16 credit hours, will learn about historical and contemporary strategies for social change, work with social organizations and study the connections between local and global movements.

The minor includes two new social justice courses, a capstone community-based learning experience with a partner organization and six elective credit hours.

The first of three required courses will be taught by Barbara Ransby, director of the Social Justice Initiative and professor of African American studies, gender and women’s studies and history. Students will explore personal narratives, memoirs and biographies of people engaged in social and political change.

UIC students launch to success in rocket competition

UIC students Matt Kubik (from left), Pedro Lopez, Jacqueline Swift and Kevin Trevino at the intercollegiate rocket competition in Utah.

UIC students launched their rocket designs at the 10th Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition this summer — and brought home two awards.

“It’s the world’s largest collegiate rocket competition,” said Matt Kubik, president of the UIC chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a senior in chemical engineering.

This is the first year the UIC chapter competed in the remote-controlled rocket contest, hosted June 24-28 by the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association in Green River, Utah. Participants included teams from 36 colleges in seven countries.

UIC students in the campus chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Matt Kubik and Kevin Trevino with the team’s entries, Vimana and U.S.S.R.

Some teams spend up to a year preparing for the competition, but a scramble for funding meant the UIC team had about two months to finish its two entries: Vimana (named for a mythological flying chariot in ancient Hindu epics) and Ultra Suka Sounding Rocket (U.S.S.R.).

“There were a few days that we pulled eight-hour shifts,” said Jacqueline Swift, chapter treasurer and senior in mechanical engineering.

The rockets, required to carry a 10-pound payload, were made from aluminum, fiberglass and plywood, with electronic parts for launch. Rockets in the basic competition must launch 10,000 feet above ground level; in the advanced competition, entries must launch and recover 23,000 feet above ground level.

“It was two months of work down to someone pressing a button, so it was really nerve wracking,” Swift said.

UIC’s Vimana rocket won the Closest to the Pin Award after landing 150 feet from the pad in the basic competition. “Most rockets land about three-quarters of a mile away,” Kubik said.

The U.S.S.R launched 19,000 feet in the air and went supersonic for five seconds.

UIC also won the Team Sportsmanship Award for willingness to help others at the competition. “We were thrilled when we won it,” said Swift. “We were excited that the judges noticed we were holding our own as a team but that we were also willing to help others.”

The UIC team, which has about 45 members, also participates in two other competitions during the year — Battle of the Rockets and Design/Build/Fly.

They placed second in the Battle of the Rockets in March and they’re eager to start prepping for 2016. “We’re hoping to place first,” Kubik said.

The team welcomes new student members. For more information, email