March 20, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 12

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    Chicago in the News

    The Chronicle’s biweekly column Chicago In the News offers a digest of commentary and quotations by a few of the University faculty members, students and alumni who have been headlining the news in recent weeks. Chicago faculty members are some of the most frequently quoted experts, so space allows publishing references to only selected examples. To read many of the full newspaper articles mentioned in this column, visit the In the News column at the University News Office Web site: http://www-news.uchicago.edu.

    A better bet to avoid bed rest

    Arthur Haney, the Catherine Lindsay Dobson Professor and Chairman of Obstetrics & Gynecology, and the surgical technique he has perfected, called transabdominal cerclage, was the subject of a Tuesday, March 11 Chicago Tribune article. Transabdominal cerclage reinforces a patient’s cervix with a band that is placed through the abdomen. A woman whose cervix dilates while she is early in her pregnancy often must have surgery to reinforce the cervix and prevent premature birth. One more common method, transvaginal cerclage, requires weeks of bed rest for pregnant women, unlike the abdominal surgery Haney provides. According to the article, Haney said the advantages of transabdominal cerclage include avoiding bed rest and being able to go full term with a pregnancy; however, this technique does require a patient to deliver through Caesarean section. The cost of having the transabdominal cerclage vs. premature birth can be significant, he said. “Charges for a transabdominal cerclage come to $25,000. That’s pretty cheap, really. It can cost $1 million for three months in the neonatal nursery.”

    A century later, another continent

    Hoyt Bleakley, Assistant Professor of Economics in the Graduate School of Business, co-wrote an op-ed with Miriam Wasserman, which was published in the Tuesday, March 4 Chicago Tribune. The opinion piece describes how hookworm, which was eradicated 100 years ago in the American South, is currently harming children in Africa, and how President Bush’s $350 million plan to help Africans eradicate the parasite is worthy of support. “The weight of the economic burden of hookworm was large enough to be able to account for almost one-fifth of the income difference that existed at the time between the wealthier North and the impoverished South. But the larger benefits of eradicating hookworm are not limited to the South of 100 years ago. There is contemporary evidence that developing countries can reap equivalent rewards,” they wrote. Money from the Rockefeller Foundation, vigilant local health boards and education efforts created a result that was “so successful that few Americans today know the problem ever existed. The rewards for eradicating these diseases are tremendous, in both humanitarian and economic terms,” wrote Bleakley and Wasserman. Bleakley is the author of Disease and Development: Evidence from Hookworm Eradication in the American South.

    Rick Kittles

    A genetic map to one’s roots

    Rick Kittles, Associate Professor of Genetic Medicine in Medicine, was quoted in a Saturday, Feb. 23 Chicago Sun-Times story that described his genetic testing company, African Ancestry, which looks into African-Americans’ family roots by analyzing a person’s maternal or paternal DNA. The article noted that Kittles has tested nearly 15,000 people—including Oprah Winfrey, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and self-made multimillionaire Chris Gardner—since starting his studies in 1995. The testing, Kittles said is “important for everybody, whether you’re a celebrity or not. When you say, ‘I might have diabetes,’ the first thing [a doctor] says is, ‘Do you have a family history?’ So it’s important to understand your ancestry for many other reasons besides setting up some map of Africa and saying, ‘This is where I’m from.’ ”

    In search of polyps

    Abraham Dachman, Professor of Radiology in the Abdominal Imaging & Cancer Research Center, was photographed and quoted in a Tuesday, March 4 Chicago Tribune story about a procedure he performs to test for polyps in the colon. The non-invasive virtual colonoscopy examines the patient’s bowel by inflating it with a small tube about the length of a finger, and it requires no sedation, as does a conventional colonoscopy. Because the virtual test is non-invasive, patients typically are able to drive themselves home after the 20-minute procedure. Results can be viewed on a computer workstation, and color can be added to the images. “You don’t want to make the images too smooth because you can miss things,” said Dachman.

    SSRIs and suicide prevention

    An article published in The Economist on Saturday, March 1, examined the use of antidepressants and whether they actually combat depression and aid in preventing suicides. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research analyzed data from 26 countries over several decades to determine what effect selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors had on suicide. The authors, including Jens Ludwig, Professor in the School of Social Service Administration, the Law School and the Harris School of Public Policy Studies, the article noted, concluded that antidepressants are “a very cost-effective means for saving lives.” Countries with both high and low initial rates of antidepressant use saw similar trends in suicides until SSRIs were introduced, the NBER study noted.

    Cynics say no to churches

    Omar McRoberts, Associate Professor in Sociology and the College and author of Streets of Glory: Church and Community in a Black Urban Neighborhood, was interviewed for a story that appeared in The Boston Globe Sunday, March 2. The article described how the Greater Bowdoin-Geneva Neighborhood Association in Boston wants to restrict the Bibleway Christian Center from expanding into another neighborhood church. McRoberts, who studied the storefront churches springing up around Dorchester’s Four Corners neighborhood for his 2003 book, said: “One thing that I found was there was a lot of cynicism directed at these churches from residents of the neighborhood. The concern of residents was that these churches were, for a variety of reasons, perceived as not really contributing anything to neighborhood life.”


    John List

    Photo by Jason Smith


    Raising questions about fundraising

    According to new research by John List, Professor in Economics and the College, and his colleague Dean Karlan from Yale University, matching gifts provide incentive for contributors to give to charitable causes, but the ratio of the matching gift has little influence on the amount donors contribute. An article about their research in a growing area of research on the economics of philanthropy was published in The New York Times Magazine on Sunday, March 9. Working with a liberal, political organization as their test group for a field experiment, the two economists set out to see if the common fundraising strategy of matching gifts really helped groups raise more money. The article also described List as an economist who is a leading proponent of field experiments that test theories and analyze people’s motivations, and one who does not align himself with economists who are either rationalists or behaviorists.

    Value of knowing your numbers

    Matt Sorrentino, Associate Professor of Cardiology in Medicine, weighed in on an article published in the Sunday, Feb. 24 Chicago Tribune about heart health. Sorrentino advised that people monitor and memorize their cholesterol and blood-pressure levels, with blood pressure being at its best when it is no higher than 120/80, and total cholesterol being no higher than 200, with LDL less than 130 and HDL above 40 for men and 50 for women; triglycerides should be below 150.