UIC Science posts on investigations in engineering, medicine, psychology, social science and the natural sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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Rama Kamesh Bikkavilli was named a 2014 A Breath of Hope Research Fellow. Photo: Joshua Clark/UIC Photo Services
Rama Kamesh Bikkavilli, assistant professor in pulmonary, critical care, sleep and allergy in the UIC College of Medicine, has received a $150,000 fellowship award from the A Breath of Hope Foundation to support his search for biomarkers associated with lung cancer. Read more

Rama Kamesh Bikkavilli was named a 2014 A Breath of Hope Research Fellow. Photo: Joshua Clark/UIC Photo Services

Rama Kamesh Bikkavilli, assistant professor in pulmonary, critical care, sleep and allergy in the UIC College of Medicine, has received a $150,000 fellowship award from the A Breath of Hope Foundation to support his search for biomarkers associated with lung cancer. Read more

Ebola virus. Photo: Cynthia Goldsmith/Centers for Disease Control
"There’s a quote I like to use in relation to this Ebola outbreak: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’,” says Lijun Rong, associate professor of microbiology and immunology.
“The thing that makes Ebola scary is that it’s an unknown — we don’t know what it’s going to do or where it will show up next.”
Rong has been following the outbreak in West Africa closely, and news coverage of the Americans who seemed to respond positively to an experimental treatment for Ebola makes him uneasy.
“These two people may have been already on their way to getting better when they got the treatment, which was nine days after they started developing symptoms,” Rong says. “It is too early to know if this treatment is effective with just two cases.”
Rong and his colleagues at UIC are working on identifying small drug molecules that can prevent some of the most dangerous viruses — including Ebola, Marburg and MERS — from infecting cells. They use a high-throughput screening facility to screen and identify drugs and agents for their virus-blocking potential.
So far, they have identified a few lead molecules that show promise against Ebola. Mice given one of these compounds had an 80 percent survival rate when exposed to the Ebola virus in the lab, compared to zero percent for the mice that didn’t get the compound.
Since experiments that use infectious Ebola virus require a level 4 biohazard facility, this phase of Rong’s research is conducted at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick, Maryland.
For the drug screening, conducted in campus labs, Rong uses hybrid viruses made up of a virus with low potential for infecting humans that carries the Ebola glycoprotein that lets it bind to human cells — the first step in infection.
“We are looking for small molecules that interfere with the Ebola glycoprotein in some way and prevent it from binding to host cells,” Rong says.
While he is not as concerned about Ebola as he is about the flu virus, which kills hundreds of thousands of people each year, Rong believes that developing treatments for emerging viruses is important work.
“We need to prepare for new viruses to not only save lives, but to reduce some of the uncertainty and fear that they cause.”

Ebola virus. Photo: Cynthia Goldsmith/Centers for Disease Control

"There’s a quote I like to use in relation to this Ebola outbreak: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’,” says Lijun Rong, associate professor of microbiology and immunology.

“The thing that makes Ebola scary is that it’s an unknown — we don’t know what it’s going to do or where it will show up next.”

Rong has been following the outbreak in West Africa closely, and news coverage of the Americans who seemed to respond positively to an experimental treatment for Ebola makes him uneasy.

“These two people may have been already on their way to getting better when they got the treatment, which was nine days after they started developing symptoms,” Rong says. “It is too early to know if this treatment is effective with just two cases.”

Rong and his colleagues at UIC are working on identifying small drug molecules that can prevent some of the most dangerous viruses — including Ebola, Marburg and MERS — from infecting cells. They use a high-throughput screening facility to screen and identify drugs and agents for their virus-blocking potential.

So far, they have identified a few lead molecules that show promise against Ebola. Mice given one of these compounds had an 80 percent survival rate when exposed to the Ebola virus in the lab, compared to zero percent for the mice that didn’t get the compound.

Since experiments that use infectious Ebola virus require a level 4 biohazard facility, this phase of Rong’s research is conducted at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick, Maryland.

For the drug screening, conducted in campus labs, Rong uses hybrid viruses made up of a virus with low potential for infecting humans that carries the Ebola glycoprotein that lets it bind to human cells — the first step in infection.

“We are looking for small molecules that interfere with the Ebola glycoprotein in some way and prevent it from binding to host cells,” Rong says.

While he is not as concerned about Ebola as he is about the flu virus, which kills hundreds of thousands of people each year, Rong believes that developing treatments for emerging viruses is important work.

“We need to prepare for new viruses to not only save lives, but to reduce some of the uncertainty and fear that they cause.”

Small-scale attempts to improve students’ diet could backfire

Banning vending machines from schools can actually increase soda and fast food consumption among students if it’s the only school food policy change implemented, according to research conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The study, published online in the journal PLOS ONE, looked exclusively at regular soda consumption – not diet soda or other sugar sweetened beverages – and fast food.

The study included 8,245 high school students in 27 states. The study linked student data from the National Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition Study with state-level data on soda taxes, restaurant taxes, and laws governing the sale of soda in schools in 2010.

The researchers found that 23 percent of students reported drinking at least one soda per day if they had access to vending machines in schools, compared to 28 percent of students who did not have access. However, these differences were only observed in states where soda was taxed less or students were able to buy soda from the school cafeteria or the school store.

The study also found that students eat more fast food when vending machines are removed, particularly when state sales tax rates for restaurant foods are lower, according to the authors. Read more

UIC, other universities urge lawmakers to close innovation deficit

The University of Illinois joins a coalition of university, scientific and business organizations today urging Congress and President Obama to ensure that the U.S. remains a leader in innovation by increasing federal investments in research.

The innovation deficit — the widening gap between actual and needed federal investments in research and higher education — continues to increase in the U.S., while other nations such as China, India and Singapore dramatically boost research funding to develop technological and medical breakthroughs to move their economies forward.

One year ago today, UIC Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares added her name to an open letter to President Obama and Congress signed by more than 200 university officials, urging them to take action against the innovation deficit. Progress has been made, the coalition says, but more needs to be done. Read more

Amin Salehi-Khojin, UIC professor of mechanical and industrial engineering. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services
Scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago have synthesized a catalyst that improves their system for converting waste carbon dioxide into syngas, a precursor of gasoline and other energy-rich products, bringing the process closer to commercial viability.
Amin Salehi-Khojin, UIC professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, and his coworkers developed a unique two-step catalytic process that uses molybdenum disulfide and an ionic liquid to “reduce,” or transfer electrons, to carbon dioxide in a chemical reaction. The new catalyst improves efficiency and lowers cost by replacing expensive metals like gold or silver in the reduction reaction.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications on July 30. Read more

Amin Salehi-Khojin, UIC professor of mechanical and industrial engineering. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

Scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago have synthesized a catalyst that improves their system for converting waste carbon dioxide into syngas, a precursor of gasoline and other energy-rich products, bringing the process closer to commercial viability.

Amin Salehi-Khojin, UIC professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, and his coworkers developed a unique two-step catalytic process that uses molybdenum disulfide and an ionic liquid to “reduce,” or transfer electrons, to carbon dioxide in a chemical reaction. The new catalyst improves efficiency and lowers cost by replacing expensive metals like gold or silver in the reduction reaction.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications on July 30. Read more

Physicists unlock nature of high-temperature superconductivity

UIC physicist Dirk Morr. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

Physicists have identified the “quantum glue” that underlies a promising type of superconductivity — a crucial step towards the creation of energy superhighways that conduct electricity without current loss.

The research, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a collaboration between theoretical physicists led by Dirk Morr, professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and experimentalists led by Seamus J.C. Davis of Cornell University and Brookhaven National Laboratory. Read more

Robert Bailey, UIC professor of epidemiology researching male circumcision as a strategy for HIV/STD prevention
Men do not engage in riskier behaviors after they are circumcised, according to a study in Kenya by University of Illinois at Chicago researchers.
Three clinical trials have shown that male circumcision significantly reduces the risk of acquiring HIV in young African men. However, some experts have suggested that circumcision, if promoted as an HIV preventive, may increase promiscuity or decrease condom use. This ‘risk compensation’ could diminish the effectiveness of medical male circumcision programs.
The new study, published online July 21 in the journal AIDS and Behavior, is the first population-level longitudinal assessment of risk compensation associated with adult male circumcision. Read more

Robert Bailey, UIC professor of epidemiology researching male circumcision as a strategy for HIV/STD prevention

Men do not engage in riskier behaviors after they are circumcised, according to a study in Kenya by University of Illinois at Chicago researchers.

Three clinical trials have shown that male circumcision significantly reduces the risk of acquiring HIV in young African men. However, some experts have suggested that circumcision, if promoted as an HIV preventive, may increase promiscuity or decrease condom use. This ‘risk compensation’ could diminish the effectiveness of medical male circumcision programs.

The new study, published online July 21 in the journal AIDS and Behavior, is the first population-level longitudinal assessment of risk compensation associated with adult male circumcision. Read more

Seungpyo Hong, assistant professor of pharmaceutics and bioengineering at UIC
Endoxifen is one of the most commonly used drugs in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer, but its side effects can be serious – including an increased risk of endometrial cancer and stroke. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in collaboration with Northwestern University clinicians, have developed a topical drug-delivery system that allows endoxifen to pass through the skin directly to the breast, which could help reduce the side effects associated with taking the drug orally and prevent the number of mastectomies. Read more

Seungpyo Hong, assistant professor of pharmaceutics and bioengineering at UIC

Endoxifen is one of the most commonly used drugs in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer, but its side effects can be serious – including an increased risk of endometrial cancer and stroke. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in collaboration with Northwestern University clinicians, have developed a topical drug-delivery system that allows endoxifen to pass through the skin directly to the breast, which could help reduce the side effects associated with taking the drug orally and prevent the number of mastectomies. Read more

Face your age

S. Jay Olshansky, professor of epidemology, studies aging and longevity. Photo: Jenny Fontaine/UIC Public and Government Affairs

“Imagine taking your iPhone and snapping a selfie and putting it into our Web site and discovering that your eyes are that of a 50-year-old, your lips are that of a 70-year-old, your cheeks are that of a 50-year-old.” —S. Jay Olshansky, professor of epidemiology, on a new technology he helped develop that uses facial recognition technology to reveal how old you look, July 2 Washington Post 

What factors influence mammography among first-generation Muslim immigrants?

Dr. Memoona Hasnain/ Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

First generation Muslim women living in Chicago were more likely to ever have had a mammogram if they lived in the United States longer, had a primary care physician, had higher self-efficacy and believed in the importance of getting screened for breast cancer according to a recent study in the Journal of Women’s Health.

“Despite significant reductions in mortality due to breast cancer attributed to increased screening and mammography, disparities in the use of screening persist in certain populations,” said Dr. Memoona Hasnain, associate professor of family medicine in the UIC College of Medicine and lead author of the paper. “Migration to western countries is often associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, and ethnic minority women living in western countries are more likely to present with more advanced stages of breast cancer when they do get screened.”

Hasnain and colleagues wanted to find out what the barriers to breast cancer screening were for Muslim women living in Chicago.

They surveyed 207 first-generation Muslim women with a mean age of 52 years old about their beliefs about breast cancer, screening practices and their use of mammography.

Read More