Monthly archives: February, 2016

Homeless To Benefit From New Database

Under a new $100,000 grant, the University of Illinois at Chicago department of emergency medicine, in partnership with All Chicago, a non-profit agency that provides resources and strategies to address homelessness, will develop a process for hospitals and clinics to share data with homeless service providers.

“Chronic homelessness is a huge risk factor for a host of disease and medical conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer, but it’s also the single biggest risk factor for a significantly reduced lifespan,” says Steve Brown, director of preventive emergency medicine in the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System and principal investigator on the grant.

People who face chronic homelessness live, on average, 27 years less than the average American, Brown said, but often don’t report that information to emergency room staff.

“If we don’t know who carries this risk factor when they come into the emergency department, we can’t do our best to provide linkage to services — most importantly, getting these patients into permanent support housing,” he said.

The grant, from AcademyHealth and the federal Office of the National Coordinator, will allow Brown and UI Health’s information services department to work with All Chicago technicians to develop a way to embed a patient’s housing status into the electronic medical record. They will cross-reference patients already in the hospital’s medical records with the database of Chicago’s Homeless Management Information System, which tracks Chicagoans who are currently homeless, at risk of becoming homeless, or were formerly homeless, and the services they receive. The HMIS database is managed by All Chicago and used by more than 250 agencies and city departments.

Linking homeless patients to services to get them into housing not only improves their health, but also reduces costs for the healthcare system, Brown said.

“Homeless patients are the most expensive to treat because they are at such greater risk for so many health problems and diseases,” he said. “If we can work on their number-one health risk factor – homelessness – we have a much better chance of preventing chronic diseases and reducing overall health care costs.”

AcademyHealth is a leading national organization serving the fields of health services and policy research. The Office of the National Coordinator is the government agency responsible for the oversight and adoption of electronic medical records by healthcare organizations.

By Sharon Parmet




Diabetes Study A Promising Step Towards An Eventual Cure

Dr. Jose Oberholzer,

Dr. Jose Oberholzer, chief of transplantation surgery and director of cell and pancreas transplantation at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System.

For the first time ever, scientists studying a mouse model of diabetes have implanted encapsulated insulin-producing cells derived from human stem cells and maintained long-term control of blood sugar — without administering immunosuppressant drugs.

The results of the multi-institutional effort are published in Nature Medicine.

People with type 1 diabetes have an overactive immune system that destroys the insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas. Lacking that hormone, the body fails to convert sugars to usable energy, and glucose rises to harmful levels in the blood without daily insulin injections. Islet cells have been successfully transplanted to treat type 1 diabetes, but those patients must take immunosuppressant drugs to keep their immune system from destroying the transplanted cells.

Previous research had shown that rodent islet cells could normalize blood sugar levels in animal models without immunosuppression if the cells were encased in hydrogel capsules. The semi-porous capsules allow insulin to escape into the blood, while preventing the host’s immune system from attacking the foreign cells. Larger capsules, about 1.5 millimeters across, even seemed able to avoid the buildup of scar tissue, which can choke off the cells’ supply of oxygen and nutrients.

The new study, a collaboration led by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston Children’s Hospital, used islet cells derived from human stem cells and capsules made of chemically-tweaked gel that are even more resistant to the build-up of scar tissue.

Dr. Jose Oberholzer, chief of transplantation surgery and director of cell and pancreas transplantation at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and an author on the paper, tested several varieties of chemically-modified alginate hydrogel spheres — in various sizes — to see if any excelled at resisting scar-tissue formation.

Oberholzer and his coworkers at the University of Illinois at Chicago first tested the spheres to ensure they would allow the islet cells to function inside a host. Using a special microfluidic device developed at UIC under a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, they delivered minute amounts of glucose into tiny wells containing encapsulated islet cells and measured the amount of insulin that seeped out. They implanted spheres that showed promise into rodents and non-human primates to look for the development of scar tissue.

They found (and reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology) that 1.5-millimeter spheres of triazole-thiomorphine dioxide (TMTD) alginate were best at allowing insulin to escape while resisting immune response and the buildup of scar tissue.

When implanted into a mouse model of diabetes, TMTD-alginate spheres containing human islet cells were able to maintain proper blood glucose control for 174 days — decades, in terms relative to the human lifespan.

“When we stopped the experiment and took the spheres out, they were virtually free of scar tissue,” Oberholzer said.

“While this is a very promising step towards an eventual cure for diabetes, a lot more testing is needed to ensure that the islet cells don’t de-differentiate back toward their stem-cell states or become cancerous,” said Oberholzer. If the cells did become cancerous, he said, they could easily break through the spheres.

Oberholzer also cautioned that a cure for human diabetes would require scientists to develop techniques to grow large numbers of human islet cells from stem cells — a worthy goal.

“In the United States, there are 30 million cases of type 2 diabetes and about 2 million patients with type 1 diabetes who could potentially benefit from such a procedure,” he said. “But we need to grow billions of islet cells.”

By Sharon Parmet

Professors Find Surprising Chemistry Inside Battery

Battery Professors

Amin Salehi-Khojin, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering (right), and postdoctoral research associate Mohammad Asadi with their specially modified differential electrochemical mass spectrometry (DEMS) instrument. PHOTO CREDIT: UIC College of Engineering

Lithium-air batteries hold the promise of storing electricity at up to five times the energy density of today’s familiar lithium-ion batteries, but they have inherent shortcomings. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have helped prove that a new prototype is powered by a surprising chemical reaction that may solve the new battery’s biggest drawback.

The findings are reported in the Jan. 11 issue of Nature.

Today’s lithium-air batteries (in which the metallic lithium of the anode, or positive terminal, reacts with oxygen from the air) hold great promise, because they store energy in the form of chemical bonds of oxide compounds. Versions tested to date have stored and released energy from lithium peroxide, an insoluble substance that clogs the battery’s electrode.

Battery scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory developed a prototype that they claimed had the surprising ability to produce only lithium’s superoxide, not peroxide, as the battery discharges. Unlike troublesome lithium peroxide, lithium superoxide easily breaks down again into lithium and oxygen, thus offering the possibility of a battery with high efficiency and good cycle life.

The Argonne group designed the battery to consume one electron rather than two and produce the superoxide, said UIC’s Amin Salehi-Khojin, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering. But it was difficult to prove the reaction took place.

“Ex-situ analysis is not accurate enough to prove such a big claim,” he said.

Salehi-Khojin and postdoctoral research associate Mohammad Asadi devised a state-of-the-art mass spectroscopy apparatus to measure the electrochemical reaction products in situ during charging or discharge of the battery. The system operates in ultra-high vacuum and is “very sensitive to the tiniest change in oxygen concentration,” said Asadi, who is one of five first authors on the paper in Nature.

For the first time, the UIC researchers were able to show that one electron per oxygen atom was produced, indicating lithium superoxide, not peroxide, was forming in the battery. They were also able to show that no other lithium compounds were generated as side-products.

“This is going to be a valuable system for continuing the study of this battery and other types of metal-air batteries,” said Salehi-Khojin. “Not only can we analyze the products of the electrochemical reaction, we can elucidate the reaction pathway. If we know the reaction pathway, we’ll know how to design the next generation of that battery for energy efficiency and cost effectiveness.”

The work was funded by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Office of Science and the University of Illinois at Chicago Chancellor’s Proof of Concept Fund.

Other authors on the Nature paper are Argonne’s Jun Lu, Dengyun Zhai, Zonghai Chen, Khalil Amine, Xiangyi Luo, Kah Chun Lau, Hsien-Hau Wang, Scott Brombosz, Larry A. Curtiss, Jianguo Wen and Dean J. Miller; Yun Jung Lee, Yo Sub Jeong, Jin-Bum Park and Yang-Kook Sun of Hanyang University in Seoul; Zhigang Zak Fang of the University of Utah; and Bijandra Kumar of the University of Kentucky.

By Bill Burton

Engineering Student Trains For Future Trip To Mars

Barak Stoltz; UIC News profile

Barak Stoltz hopes to work for NASA or SpaceX. — Photo: Jenny Fontaine

Barak Stoltz wasn’t on Mars, but it was the next thing to it — a station in the Utah desert that duplicates the harsh conditions astronauts will face when they get to the Red Planet.

Stoltz, a junior in mechanical engineering and physics, spent two weeks in December at the Mars Desert Research Station.

The station is run by the Mars Society, a nonprofit that calls itself  “the world’s largest and most influential space advocacy organization” and “works toward a human presence” on Mars.

“It’s a full-scale approximation of what they would send to Mars,” Stoltz said. “It’s for people who want the experience of being an astronaut on the first [Mars] mission.”

He and his six fellow crew members had to wear spacesuits whenever they went outside. They ate dehydrated food.

“Rehydrated, it tastes about the same,” he said. “We had potatoes, vegetables, sausage, chicken, beef, even cheese. Once we even made pizza,” although it made everyone gassy.

Student prepared for Mars

Barak Stoltz spent two weeks at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. “It’s for people who want the experience of being an astronaut,” he says.

Geologically, the Utah desert is much like Mars. Another resemblance: “The isolation,” Stoltz noted.

“I was fancily named the astro-engineer. I worked at the Musk Observatory [Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, donated it], fixing up the telescope, recreating the training program that any future crew astronomer will have to go through.”

Stoltz valued the diversity of his crew, which included members from Australia, India and Italy.

As a Jew born in Israel, he marked Hanukkah by telling the story behind the holiday, lighting a menorah, saying a prayer, singing a song and “attempting to make latke.”

“It was an opportunity for people from different cultures to learn and share,” he said.

Now that he’s gone through the simulation, is he interested in actually going to Mars some day?

“Absolutely,” said Stoltz, who guesses that the first trips will start around 2030-2040. The trip will take about six months.

“I’m definitely willing to put up a fight to get picked,” he said. “Crew members will basically have to be as elite in your field as can be found  — engineers, medical, pilots — picked out of thousands.”

Planners are improving the technology to make the trip more affordable and practical, he said. “Mars has a scarce magnetic field that doesn’t cover the whole planet, nothing to protect astronauts from radiation.

“Companies like SpaceX are working to make rockets more affordable. For the first time they launched a cargo into orbit; it spun around, came back down and landed. They can refuel and send it up again, saving millions of dollars.”

The Utah station has hosted 161 crews, with more than 1,000 members, since opening in 2001.

Stoltz’s father, Michael, is director of media and public relations for the Mars Society. A year ago, he mentioned to his son that one of the upcoming crews was short one member. Barak applied and was named to crew No. 159 about a month later.

Born in Israel, he came to this country in 2007 at age 12. His family’s home is in Northbrook; he lives on Taylor Street about 10 minutes from campus.

At UIC he works under Alexander Yarin, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, and Ph.D. student Sumit Sinha Ray.

“We’re working on production, modification and application of nanofibers,” he said.

Stoltz plans to pursue a master’s degree and perhaps a Ph.D., then work for SpaceX, NASA or a space-oriented company like Lockheed Martin.

His career will involve “anything engineering-, space- or science-related,” he said. “Anything pushing humanity forward.”

Mars is never far from his thoughts.

“A successful manned mission to Mars would be one of the biggest accomplishments in human history, and being a part of it would be an absolute pleasure,” Stoltz said.

“As an enthusiastic believer in the future of space travel, I believe that our mind should wonder at the thought of space exploration, and what better way to do so than in the middle of the Utah desert with a sky full of stars.”

By Gary Wisby

Study: Clashes With Cops Result In More Injuries Than Brawls Between Civilians


People hospitalized due to an encounter with a law enforcement officer are more likely to have a mental illness, have longer hospitalizations, more injuries to the back and spine, and greater need for extended care than those hospitalized due to altercations with other civilians. The findings, based on 10 years of Illinois hospitalization data, are published in the journal Injury Epidemiology.

Lee Friedman, associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and senior author on the paper, and his colleagues wanted to find out how many and what kinds of encounters with police led to hospital admissions for civilians in Illinois.

They identified 836 people injured by contact with law enforcement officers after reviewing the medical records of all patients admitted to Illinois hospitals or treated in emergency rooms between 2000 and 2009. They compared those patients to 836 civilians of the same age and sex who were were treated in hospitals over the same period for injuries due to physical altercations with other civilians.

Civilians injured by law enforcement had 27 percent longer hospital stays (4.7 vs. 3.7 days) and twice as many back and spine injuries (7.4 percent of those injured by cops vs. 3.3 percent of those injured by civilians). They were nearly 2.5 times more likely to need extended care following discharge from the hospital (20 percent vs. 8 percent).

Although the injury severity (a numerical score of multiple factors) of those injured by police did not differ from the comparison group, the number of spine and back injuries is disturbing, Friedman said, because such injuries “indicate that the person was already on the ground face-down or turned away from the officer when they occurred.”

Equally troubling, the researchers also found that only 10 percent of the people injured by law enforcement were sent to jail after being discharged from a hospital.

“While we didn’t have information on any associated excessive-use-of-force claims by patients, the fact that these people weren’t arrested or taken into custody after being discharged — in combination with the severity of the clinical features — indicates that many of the patient injuries resulted from excessive force,” Friedman said.

“But it is important to distinguish between excessive force and unjustified force, since excessive force can be mitigated by providing law enforcement personnel with the tools and training that minimize both lethality and severity of injury,” he added.

The researchers found that of those injured by encounters with law enforcement, nearly 40 percent had psychiatric conditions that can impair judgment, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse or major depressive disorder. These mental disorders were 2.3 times more prevalent among people injured by a law enforcement officer than among those injured by a general assault.

The researchers also noted that a disproportionate number of persons with pre-existing paralytic disorders were among those injured during contact with law enforcement.

“These are people who would be unable to physically comply with police officer commands to lay on the ground or put their hands up or defend themselves when force is used,” Friedman said. About 3.5 percent of injuries caused by encounters with cops involved people with paralytic injuries compared to 1.3 percent in the comparison group.

“The issue of excessive use of force by police officers is difficult to research, because there are no policy directives that require publicly accessible repositories for such information, such as those that mandate reporting of child or elder abuse,” Friedman said. “This kind of data should be compiled, analyzed and publicly distributed on an annual basis in an effort to identify ways to reduce injuries — as is done in Australia.”

Alfreda Holloway-Beth, adjunct assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences in the UIC School of Public Health, is lead author of the study. Dr. Linda Forst, Sherry Brandt-Rauf and Sally Freels of the UIC School of Public Health and Julia Lippert of De Paul University are co-authors.

By Sharon Parmet

Little Village Environmental Justice Organization

Antonio Reyes López highlights the local sustainability plan and victories of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization during a “Zona Abierta” session organized by the UIC Latino Cultural Center.  More about the LVEJO here.  This program was recorded by Chicago Access Network Television (CAN TV).

Grad Student Designs Winning Museum Logo


Biomedical visualization student Samantha Olson’s design was selected as the new logo of the National Museum of Health + Medicine Chicago

By Elizabeth Harmon Miller

Biomedical visualization student Samantha Olson’s design was selected as the new logo of the National Museum of Health + Medicine Chicago.

The National Museum of Health + Medicine Chicago has revealed its new logo and, with it, the designer: Samantha Olson, a second-year student in UIC’s biomedical visualization program.

“We were lucky enough to partner with [the Advanced Graphic Design class in] UIC’s biomedical visualization program to redesign our logo,” said a museum news release. “Straddling the boundaries between simplicity and complexity, [Olson’s] design eloquently embodies the core concepts that drive NMHMChicago.”


Samantha Olson’s winning design

Olson said she was surprised her design was selected. “My peers had also developed beautiful, insightful logos,” says Olson. “We all pushed each other in the project, and that family-like support is why I love my graduate program at UIC.” Her work will be on a slate with the identities of other world-class Chicago museums. “How cool is that?” Olson said. “I’m truly honored to be involved in representing the NMHMC, an equally wonderful museum among its peers.”

Arcolian Dental Arts Society Generously Supports UIC

The Arcolian Dental Arts Society was generous to the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry at its Holiday Party at the Park Ridge Country Club on Dec. 1. The society is an organization of Italian-American dentists.

Dr. Frank Maggio, Clinical Assistant Professor, Periodontics, President of the society, and Dr. Russell Spinazze, President-Elect, presented Dean Clark Stanford with a check in the amount of $2,000 to support the College’s Group Practice Clinic Renovation Fund. The gift will help introduce new technology into the Group Practice Clinics.

“We supported the school not only because we realize the school needs financial help at this time, but more importantly, because the future of the profession is being created at UIC,” Dr. Maggio said.

Dr. Maggio is a member of the College’s Dental Alumni Board of Directors.
The society also gave scholarships in the amount of $1,000 each to two of the College’s students, Joshua D. Padovano and Giana T. Paterno.

“This scholarship will help support clinical and research training as I progress through the DMD/PhD program,” Padovano said. “This support from the Arcolians will help fund laboratory experiments, research materials, and clinical aid.

“Scholarships like these are critical for a student to gain the most out of his or her dental education here at UIC,” Padovano continued. “I would like to thank the Arcolians for this wonderful scholarship, their kindness, and for supporting the UIC College of Dentistry as a whole. And I’d like to offer special thanks to Dr. Maggio for being so kind and welcoming of Gianna and me.”
“I am very grateful to the Arcolians for their generous scholarship,” Paterno said. “The money will be used to help offset the cost of tuition next semester. However, this scholarship is worth much more than its monetary value. To me, it opened the door and welcomed me to a great society of dentists who share common values and beliefs.

“It is important to have such societies and scholarships to continue to develop a bond between dentists and current students who will soon be each others’ colleagues,” Paterno continued. “I would like to thank the Arcolians for their support in helping me achieve my dream. The camaraderie, generosity, and warmth extended by the Arcolian Society is extraordinary.”

Dr. Janice Genovese, Loyola ’75, was presented the Arcolian of the Year Award at the event.
At the dinner, the society also hosted College students Sulaiman Alshaar, Ravneet Kaur, and George Yousef along with Padovano and Paterno.

The society serves as a professional, social, and charitable organization for Italian-American dentists. For more information, contact Dr. Maggio at or (847) 312-3752.

UIC Earns Award to Study Oral Cancer

A University of Illinois at Chicago team led by Dr. Xiaofeng “Charles” Zhou, Associate Professor, Periodontics, UIC College of Dentistry, has earned a Lilly USA Research Award in Cancer Prevention and Early Detection. Dr. Zhou applied for the $80,000 grant, which runs through January 2017.

“The aim of this award is to identify microRNA biomarkers that can detect oral cancer at an early stage,” Dr. Zhou said. “So far we identified a number of differentially expressed microRNAs in oral cancer, and several of them have been shown to have diagnostic values to detecting oral/tongue cancer.”

Since 2003, deaths associated with oral cancer have increased by about nine percent, “primarily because oral cancer is routinely discovered at late stages,” Dr. Zhou said. “Oral cancers are preceded by pre-cancerous lesions, and approximately 18 percent become cancer. We need new technologies to predict which lesions will become cancerous.”

Dr. Zhou and his team are examining pre-cancerous tissue samples to identify microRNA biomarkers that are unique to pre-cancerous lesions.

“These unique genomic features will provide us with molecular bases for early detection diagnostic tools for those aggressive lesions,” Dr. Zhou said.

The research is a collaborative effort with UIC personnel from other units. Collaborators with Dr. Zhou are Dr. Robert J. Cabay, Assistant Professor, Clinical Pathology; Dr. Yang Dai, Associate Professor, Bioengineering; and Dr. Larisa Nonn, Associate Professor, Pathology.
For more information on Lilly Awards, email

Dr. Bin Yang Honored for Dental Innovations

Dr. Bin Yang, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Restorative Dentistry, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, recently received the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Prosthodontist Innovator Award from the American College of Prosthodontists.

The goal of the award is to sponsor research that advances the understanding of prosthodontics-related biological and/or materials systems, human behavior, cost and care delivery, and economic modeling and quality of life investigations.  Dr. Yang received $10,000 to support her research.

“The acrylic resin denture base material polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) has long been the most widely used denture base material for removable, maxillofacial, and implant-retained fixed and removable prostheses,” Dr. Yang said, in explaining her research that earned her the award.
She noted that PMMA has poor wear-resistance and is porous, so it is “susceptible to surface degradation and infection with microorganisms, forming denture plaque and biofilm.”
The biofilm is responsible for stomatitis, peri-implantitis, and increased risk for systemic diseases such as aspiration pneumonitis and systemic candidiasis.

“By changing the surface properties of the PMMA with our innovative nano-ceramic TiO2-ZrO coating, hopefully we can increase the surface wear resistance and porosity and reduce the candida attachment and biofilm formation on the surfaces of the denture,” Dr. Yang explained, noting that she was inspired by the previous research of Dr. Stephen D. Campbell, Professor and Head, Restorative Dentistry.

“This will reduce the diffusion of pathogens into the acrylic base material and facilitate the easier removal of pathogenic factors such as biofilm/plaque from acrylic prostheses, thereby reducing oral pathogenic organisms and their impact on oral and systemic health,” she added.
“This has a huge potential impact on this very large and growing patient population that the dentistry community serves,” Dr. Yang stated.

Dr. Yang applied for the award with the help and encouragement of Dr. Campbell; Dr. Fatemeh Afshari, Clinical Assistant Professor; Dr. Judy Yuan, Assistant Professor; and Dr. Cortino Sukotjo, Assistant Professor, all of the Department of Restorative Dentistry; and Virginia Buglio, Director of Research Services.

She is collaborating on the research project with Dr. Christos Takoudis, Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Dr. Christine Wu, Professor, Pediatric Dentistry.
Of all involved, Dr. Yang said, “I am very grateful to them. I am very happy to have such a very positive team to work with.”