Category: Health News

Potential Vaccine For Herpes Being Developed


Zinc oxide tetrapod nanoparticles. Credit: Deepak Shukla

An effective vaccine against the virus that causes genital herpes has evaded researchers for decades. But now, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago working with scientists from Germany have shown that zinc-oxide nanoparticles shaped like jacks can prevent the virus from entering cells, and help natural immunity to develop.

Results of the study are published in The Journal of Immunology.

“We call the virus-trapping nanoparticle a microbivac, because it possesses both microbicidal and vaccine-like properties,” says corresponding author Deepak Shukla, professor of ophthalmology and microbiology & immunology in the UIC College of Medicine. “It is a totally novel approach to developing a vaccine against herpes, and it could potentially also work for HIV and other viruses,” he said.

The particles could serve as a powerful active ingredient in a topically-applied vaginal cream that provides immediate protection against herpes virus infection while simultaneously helping stimulate immunity to the virus for long-term protection, explained Shukla.

Herpes simplex virus-2, which causes serious eye infections in newborns and immunocompromised patients as well as genital herpes, is one of the most common human viruses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 15 percent of people from ages 14-49 carry HSV-2, which can hide out for long periods of time in the nervous system. The genital lesions caused by the virus increase the risk for acquiring human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.

“Your chances of getting HIV are three to four times higher if you already have genital herpes, which is a very strong motivation for developing new ways of preventing herpes infection,” Shukla said.

Treatments for HSV-2 inczoten-Mechanism2-590x393lude daily topical medications to suppress the virus and shorten the duration of outbreaks, when the virus is active and genital lesions are present. However, drug resistance is common, and little protection is provided against further infections. Efforts to develop a vaccine have been unsuccessful because the virus does not spend much time in the bloodstream, where most traditional vaccines do their work.

The tetrapod-shaped zinc-oxide nanoparticles, called ZOTEN, have negatively charged surfaces that attract the HSV-2 virus, which has positively charged proteins on its outer envelope. ZOTEN nanoparticles were synthesized using technology developed by material scientists at Germany’s Kiel University and protected under a joint patent with UIC.

When bound to the nanoparticles, HSV-2 cannot infect cells. But the bound virus remains susceptible to processing by immune cells called dendritic cells that patrol the vaginal lining. The dendritic cells “present” the virus to other immune cells that produce antibodies. The antibodies cripple the virus and trigger the production of customized killer cells that identify infected cells and destroy them before the virus can take over and spread.

The researchers showed that female mice swabbed with HSV-2 and an ointment containing ZOTEN had significantly fewer genital lesions than mice treated with a cream lacking ZOTEN. Mice treated with ZOTEN also had less inflammation in the central nervous system, where the virus can hide out.

The researchers were able to watch immune cells pry the virus off the nanoparticles for immune processing, using high-resolution fluorescence microscopy.

“It’s very clear that ZOTEN facilitates the development of immunity by holding the virus and letting the dendritic cells get to it,” Shukla said.

If found safe and effective in humans, a ZOTEN-containing cream ideally would be applied vaginally just prior to intercourse, Shukla said. But if a woman who had been using it regularly missed an application, he said, she may have already developed some immunity and still have some protection. Shukla hopes to further develop the nanoparticles to work against HIV, which like HSV-2 also has positively charged proteins embedded in its outer envelope.

ZOTEN particles are uniform in size and shape, making them attractive for use in other biomedical applications. The novel flame transport synthesis technology used to make them allows large-scale production, said Rainer Adelung, professor of nanomaterials at Kiel University. And, because no chemicals are used, the production process is green.

Adelung hopes to begin commercial production of ZOTEN through a startup company that will be run jointly with his colleagues at UIC.

Co-authors on the study are Bellur Prabhakar, Tibor Valyi-Nagy, Thessicar Antoine, Satvik Hadigal, Abraam Yakoub, Palash Bhattacharya, and Christine Haddad of UIC and Yogendra Kumar Mishra of Kiel University. The research was supported by National Institutes of Health grants AI103754 and EY001792 and German Research Foundation grant Ad/183/10-1.

By Sharon Parmet


Using Music To Move Through Pain

Music and Pain

College of Nursing faculty Eileen Collins and Ulf Bronas study peripheral artery disease, which makes movement painful. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Music motivates people to get up and move, but does it have the power to encourage people to move even when moving is painful?

UIC researchers from the east and west sides of campus are collaborating on a pilot study to see if music can help patients with peripheral artery disease — which makes movement painful — stick with an exercise regimen.

“We’re trying to find a way to use music to promote exercise and distract from the pain,” said Eileen Collins, professor of the biobehavioral health science in the College of Nursing.

Collins is collaborating on the project with Ulf Bronas, associate professor in the biobehavioral health science department, and Steve Everett, dean of the College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts.

Everett, a noted composer, will manipulate the music so that it encourages patients to get moving.

“He’s able to take the artistic part of music and play with it a little and turn it into science to make the brain and the muscles work together in ways that we don’t think about,” Collins said.

Music Pain 2

Steve Everett, dean of the College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Participants in the pilot study will be patients from the University of Illinois Hospital and the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital who suffer from peripheral artery disease, a condition that causes claudication — a cramping, painful feeling in the legs.


“These patients are limited to walking half a block to a block before they experience significant leg pain,” Bronas said. “They have to stop and rest three to five minutes, then the pain goes away and they can walk again.”

Age, diabetes and smoking are the major risk factors for the disease, which is improved most effectively through walking. Supervised exercise programs help relieve pain, Collins said, but these programs often are not reimbursed by insurance.

“Patients essentially are told to go home and walk, and they don’t do it because it’s painful,” Collins said.

Researchers aim to create a home-based exercise regimen that participants can stick with on their own.

“We are encouraging walking at home to see if the music makes a difference in how far people walk without pain,” Collins said.

“We want to really empower individuals to take charge of their own health care,” Bronas added.

Everett will create playlists based on musical genres that the participants enjoy and manipulate songs to encourage them to walk.

“We can use music as a way to lessen the pain in certain patients,” Everett said.

The researchers plan to complete the pilot study this summer and submit grant proposals in the fall for a larger study.

Their collaboration was formed by chance when Collins met Everett at a committee meeting. Collins was filling in for a colleague who couldn’t attend the meeting and started talking to Everett about his work, then later realized his expertise could be helpful as she and Bronas discussed research ideas.

“His experience in music as motivation was perfect,” Bronas said. “Meeting new people throughout campus is really important.”

Music also has medical applications beyond peripheral artery disease, Everett said, such as helping patients with Alzheimer’s recall songs they enjoyed in their childhood.

“There are so many areas where people are trying to understand how music has this ability to work with certain medical conditions,” he said. “There are underlying tones that music is not just something for pleasure; it’s something that’s maybe much more critical for our own psychological health.”

The opportunities for students studying music and sound design are expanding far beyond the traditional prospects of composing concert music and designing sound for theater, Everett said. His students are finding jobs using their musical skills in fields such as computational informatics and sonification, which involves using audio to express data.

“Students are finding work in industries now that really 20 years ago weren’t there,” he said.

Collaborations across disciplines are critical for solving problems, Everett said.

“Ideas are no longer formed in silos,” he said. “Great universities have a way to build conversations across silos.”

By Christy Levy

Statin Use Varies Widely among Hispanics At Risk for Heart Disease

pills graphicAdults of different Hispanic/Latino backgrounds in the U.S. who are at high risk of cardiovascular disease vary significantly in their use of widely-prescribed cholesterol-lowering statins even though the drugs could reduce their chance of heart attack or stroke, according to research at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The disparities, said lead author Dima Mazen Qato, assistant professor of pharmacy systems, outcomes and policy, are due to differences in health insurance.

“Efforts to increase the use of statins, particularly targeting individuals that have already suffered a heart attack or stroke, should include expanding health insurance for all Hispanic/Latino adults that currently lack coverage, regardless of their heritage,” Qato said.

Heart disease is the number-one killer for all Americans, with stroke being the fifth leading cause of death. Cardiovascular disease is increasingly common in the growing and aging U.S. Hispanic/Latino population because of high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Statins and aspirin are two of the most prevalent treatment and preventive options.

Investigators discovered statin use was highest among high-risk adults of Puerto Rican descent (33 percent), followed by those of Dominican heritage at 28 percent. The lowest usage was found among those with a Central American background, at 22 percent.

The study is one of the first of its kind to compare the difference in statin and aspirin usage among diverse Hispanic/Latino populations in the U.S.

Results were from 4,139 patients living in the Bronx, New York; Chicago; Miami; and San Diego between 2008 and 2011. Their average age was 52, and about half were women. All were at high risk for heart disease, having already had a heart attack, stroke or diabetes.

Participants underwent a medical examination prior to enrollment and were required to complete a questionnaire about medication use and heart disease history.

According to Qato, one-fourth of Hispanic/Latino adults at high risk took statins and fewer than half (44 percent) took aspirin. Seventeen percent took both. The use of aspirin, which is available without a prescription, was comparable among all Hispanic/Latino groups.

“Efforts to improve statin prescribing in patients likely to benefit are particularly important in patients with a history of heart disease,” Qato said. “Healthcare providers and policy makers should be aware of the role of insurance in the underuse of preventative cardiovascular medications in specific Hispanic/Latino populations.”

Co-authors of the study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, are Todd Lee, Jocelyn Wilder, Donghong Wu and Dr. Martha Daviglus of UIC; Ramon Durazo-Arvizu of Loyola University Chicago; Samantha Reina of the University of Miami; Jianwen Cai and Franklyn Gonzalez of the University of North Carolina; Dr. Gregory Talavera of San Diego State University; and Dr. Robert Ostfeld of Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

The Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos was a collaborative study supported by contracts from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to the University of North Carolina (N01-HC65233), the University of Miami (N01-HC65234), the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (N01-HC65235), Northwestern University (N01-HC65236), UIC (HHSN268201300003I) and San Diego State University (N01-HC65237).

The following Institutes/Centers/Offices contribute to the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos through a transfer of funds to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities; the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders; the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research; the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease; the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; and the NIH Institution-Office of Dietary Supplements.

By:  Same Hostettler

Elderly Unknowingly Using Dangerous Combinations of Drugs and Supplements

Dima Quota -- elderly drug combinations

Dima Qato, assistant professor of pharmacy systems, outcomes and policy.

One in six older adults now regularly use potentially deadly combinations of prescription and over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements — a two-fold increase over a five-year period, according to new research at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Dima Mazen Qato, assistant professor of pharmacy systems, outcomes and policy, and her colleagues examined changes in medication use in a nationally representative sample of older adults between the ages of 62 and 85. In contrast to many existing studies of medication use by the elderly, these investigators conducted in-home interviews to accurately identify what people were actually taking.

According to the study, older adults using at least five prescription medications (a status known as polypharmacy) rose from 30.6 percent in 2005 to 35.8 percent in 2011.

Factors that may account for the rise include the implementation of Medicare Part D, changes in treatment guidelines, and the increased availability of generics for many commonly used drugs.

As an example, the use of simvastatin (Zocor) — the most commonly used prescription medication in the older adult population, which became available as a generic in 2006 — doubled from 10.3 percent to 22.5 percent, Qato said. Zocor is used to treat high cholesterol and may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Despite limited evidence of their clinical benefit, dietary supplements are being used by a growing number of older individuals, the study found — an increase from 51.8 percent to 63.7 percent over the same time period, with nearly a 50 percent growth in the number of people using multiple supplements. The largest increase was found in the use of omega-3 fish oils — a dietary supplement with limited evidence of cardiovascular benefits — which rose from 4.7 percent of people surveyed in 2005 to 18.6 percent in 2011.

Fifteen potentially life-threatening drug combinations of the most commonly used medications and supplements in the study were also identified. Nearly 15 percent of older adults regularly used at least one of these dangerous drug combinations in 2011, compared to 8 percent in 2005.

More than half of the potential interactions involved a nonprescription medication or dietary supplement, Qato said. Preventative cardiovascular medications such as statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs, particularly simvastatin), anti-platelet drugs (such as clopidogrel and aspirin, used to prevent blood clots), and supplements (specifically omega-3 fish oil) accounted for the vast majority of these interacting drug combinations.

Cardiovascular prevention efforts and treatment guidelines promoting primary prevention may be undermined by these interactions, Qato said.

“Many older patients seeking to improve their cardiovascular health are also regularly using interacting drug combinations that may worsen cardiovascular risk,” she said. “For example, the use of clopidogrel in combination with the proton-pump inhibitor omeprazole, aspirin, or naproxen — all over-the-counter medications — is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks, bleeding complications, or death. However, about 1.8 percent — or 1 million — older adults regularly use clopidogrel in interacting combinations.”

Health care professionals should carefully consider the adverse effects of commonly used prescription and nonprescription medication combinations when treating older adults, Qato said, and counsel patients about the risks. “Improving safety in the use of interacting medication combinations has the potential to reduce preventable, potentially fatal, adverse drug events,” she said.

While it is not known how many older adults in the U.S. die of drug interactions, Qato said, “the risk seems to be growing, and public awareness is lacking.”

Co-authors of the research, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, are Jocelyn Wilder of UIC; L. Philip Schumm and Victoria Gillet of the University of Chicago; and Dr. G. Caleb Alexander of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

The National Social Life, Health and Aging Project is supported by grants R01AG021487 and R01AG033903 from the National Institutes of Health, including the National Institutes on Aging, the Office of Women’s Health Research, the Office of AIDS Research, and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research.

UIC to House National Archive of Medical Illustrations

Medical Illustration

Illustration by Tom Jones, founder of the AMI and UIC’s biomedical visualization program.

A historic archive is about to come home to the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The Association of Medical Illustrators, a national professional society founded at the UIC College of Medicine in 1945, is moving its archive from Wake Forest University to the UIC Library of Health Sciences this spring.

The original medical illustrations, photographs, slides, journals, newsletters, and working papers collected over seven decades amounts to 78 linear feet of materials, in library terms. It will be housed in the library’s Chicago Special Collections and Archives Department.

When it was announced that the Wake Forest facility would close, UIC’s department of biomedical and health information sciences submitted a proposal that bested those of Johns Hopkins University and Cincinnati’s Lloyd Library and Museum, which collects medical and pharmaceutical materials.

The association’s history at UIC may have influenced the decision, according to John Daugherty, program director and clinical assistant professor
 of biomedical visualization. Daugherty said the association’s founder, Tom Jones, also founded UIC’s program in biomedical visualization.

But there are also pragmatic reasons for UIC to hold the archive, Daugherty said.

“The UIC Library of Health Sciences is one of the largest health sciences libraries in the United States. It is one of eight regional medical libraries for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine,” he said.

The national network designates regional medical libraries for the strength of the library’s collection, the expertise and reputation of its staff, and the library’s ability to deliver services to the region.

“The biomedical visualization faculty will work with the AMI to set policy for the archive. It will be a valuable resource for our students, faculty, alumni and other scholars for years to come,” Daugherty said.

By: Anne Brooks Ranallo

Study To Determine If Drinking Milk After Sugary Snacks Reduces Plaque in Children

Dr. Wu

Dr. Christine Wu, Professor, Pediatric Dentistry, UIC College of Dentistry.

Dr. Christine Wu, Professor, Pediatric Dentistry, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, has been awarded a research grant for her study, “Consumption of milk after sugar snacks reduces dental plaque acid production and benefits oral health in children.” She was one of seven researchers awarded funding, out of 80 who competed to be funded by the National Dairy Council (NDC) for two years.

“For generations, dairy farmers and the dairy industry have been committed to promoting children’s health,” Dr. Wu explained. “Drinking milk has been accepted as an excellent habit for nutrition and, in particular, for the health of bone and teeth.” She also noted that milk has anticarcinogenic properties and that its benefits to oral health are “ultimately associated with a person’s systemic health and well-being.”

Dental plaque bacteria on tooth surfaces ferment dietary sugars and carbohydrates to produce acids that can cause demineralization of the enamel surface, thus leading to tooth decay. The usual dietary advice for caries prevention is to limit frequent intake of sugars. A recent study published by Dr. Wu’s research team showed that, in adults, the cariogenic potential of sugars may be modified by the ingestion of non-cariogenic foods such as milk. “However, it remains unknown whether a similar situation exists in children, who frequently consume sugary snacks/juices and lack awareness of proper follow-up oral hygiene measures,” she noted.

The objective of her NDC-funded study is to examine whether low-fat milk, 100% apple juice, or tap water affect dental plaque acidity in seven-to-11 year-old children “after a sugary challenge by a dry, ready-to-eat breakfast cereal,” Dr. Wu said. “The protective effect of milk consumption in reducing dental plaque acidity will be compared with effects after juice or water consumption.”

The proposed study will generate awareness that compared to water or the numerous sugar-added fruit juices available on the market, milk may be “the healthy beverage of choice to prevent tooth decay, especially after consumption of sugary snacks or desserts,” Dr. Wu said. “We want to raise public awareness that milk, besides its caries protective effect, when sequenced properly between and especially after sugary snacks, can reduce caries risk and benefit oral health, especially in children. We anticipate that the dairy industry will serve as a front runner in leading other beverage industries to promote healthy and functional beverages for oral health.”

Dr. Wu cautioned that while drinking milk may offer caries protection, ideally tooth brushing and maintaining good oral hygiene are still the best way of reducing dental plaque. Pediatric Dentistry resident Htet Bo will participate in Dr. Wu’s latest study.

Dr. Wu also thanked Dr. Marcio da Fonseca, Head, Pediatric Dentistry, for his support of her research effort.

For more than two decades, Dr. Wu’s lab has focused on the exploration and identification of plant-derived anti-plaque and anti-biofilm compounds against oral pathogens. In recent years, her laboratory has been engaged in clinical and translational studies to evaluate the oral health benefits of specific foods and beverages, especially dietary plant polyphenols (catechins and proanthocynandins) including teas, raisins, cranberries and dried plums. She is an advocate of and promotes “functional foods/beverages for oral health,” Dr. Wu concluded.

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

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

Diabetes Drug Studied For Healing Wounds

Timothy Koh, UIC professor of kinesiology and nutrition

Timothy Koh, UIC professor of kinesiology and nutrition


A drug taken orally to control blood-sugar levels in diabetic patients may promote wound healing when applied directly to injured tissue, according to a researcher at the UIC College of Applied Health Sciences.

Timothy Koh, professor of kinesiology and nutrition, UIC College of Applied Health Sciences, is researching wound healing in diabetic individuals.

Timothy Koh, professor of kinesiology and nutrition, will use a four-year, $2.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for a translational study of the diabetes drug glyburide for wound healing in humans, beginning this summer. He has been studying glyburide in mice.

Koh says that studies in his laboratory showed that glyburide applied directly to wounds in diabetic mice improved healing. The drug, he says, may modify the activity of macrophages — cells that are crucial in healing.

Research in other laboratories has shown that glyburide inhibits a cellular structure called the NLRP3 inflammasome, “which is kind of a danger-sensor for the immune system,” Koh said.

Other groups, he said, have found that the elevated sugar levels in diabetes may activate the inflammasome.

“When this pathway is activated, an inflammatory response is mounted, macrophages get angry and cause tissue damage,” Koh said.

Sustained activity of the inflammasome may cause chronic inflammation and impaired healing, resulting in chronic wounds, commonly appearing as foot ulcers in diabetic patients.

The human study will enroll 60 older diabetic patients. Half will have their wounds treated with glyburide, and the other half will be treated with a placebo for one month.

Koh suspects that wounded tissue communicates with the bone marrow, where macrophages are produced — and in diabetic patients, the signals may be amplified or extended in duration. He hopes to see whether those signals can be controlled by applying glyburide to the wound.

“We’ll measure inflammatory cells in the wounds, the blood, and the bone marrow,” he said. “We’ve been studying how this treatment works in diabetic mice, and now we will extend these studies to diabetic patients.”

Koh’s current work builds on previous research targeting inflammation in wounds so that healing can progress. He also studies the use of low-intensity vibrations to spur the formation of tissue to heal wounds. Both projects are in collaboration with Dr. William Ennis, clinical professor of surgery and director of UIC’s Wound Healing and Tissue Repair Clinic.

By Anne Brooks Ranallo

UI Cancer Center, Governors State to Address Cancer Disparities in Suburbs

Dr. Winn

Robert A. Winn, MD, associate vice president for community-based practice at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System and director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center

The greatest burden of cancer in the Chicago region has moved from the city to the suburbs.

The University of Illinois Cancer Center and Governors State University have received a joint four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to help both institutions conduct community-based research to reduce cancer-related health disparities in Chicago’s south suburbs.

The grant will support the development of an integrated program for GSU junior faculty that provides training to perform independent research and to lend career-development support to minority undergraduate and graduate students at Governors State who are interested in health disparities research.

“Governors State University has invested substantially in its basic and health science faculty and programs and is well-positioned to make a dent in bringing down cancer rates locally,” says Dr. Robert Winn, associate vice president for community-based practice at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System and director of the UI Cancer Center. “The University of Illinois Cancer Center can help by sharing our expertise in cancer research and delivering community-based cancer prevention and intervention strategies where they are needed most.”

The region has seen a “geographic shift” in the areas with the highest cancer rates, from the city to the suburbs, says Karriem Watson, senior research specialist and administrator for community-engaged research at the UI Cancer Center. “But many suburbs don’t have the infrastructure of robust academic and research cancer centers, or the specialized expertise among their faculty, to address the growing disparities that exist within their local communities,” he said. “That’s what we hope to build with GSU.”

“Partnering with the UI Cancer Center will increase the capacity of GSU to serve as a center of health disparities research in a community that is disproportionately affected by cancer,” said Dr. Rupert Evans, chair and program director of health administration at Governors State and co-principal investigator on the grant. “It will also build our faculty’s ability to pursue larger federal grants for projects that will address high cancer rates and mortality in the Southland community.”

“The faculty and students have a very organic relationship with the communities we serve,” said Dr. Catherine Balthazar, chair of the department of communication disorders at GSU and another co-principal investigator on the grant. “Because of the trust we have with the community, we can help bring the opportunity to participate in community-based cancer research and in clinical trials through our partnership with the University of Illinois Cancer Center.”

The grant also supports a breast cancer pilot project led by Dr. Kent Hoskins, associate professor of hematology/oncolology in the UIC College of Medicine and member of the UI Cancer Center, and faculty from Governors State with expertise in behavioral health and health disparities. The project will test the efficacy of a mobile device app that lets primary care physicians screen women for elevated risk of breast cancer and provides information on genetic counseling. The research team will determine whether use of the app influences women to make recommended follow-up appointments with genetic counselors.