Illinois Public Media News
A Chicago-based scientist says he's grateful to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk for siding with legislation that backs stem cell research.
Kirk on Monday called for congressional action to codify an executive order on the research issued by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Dr. John Kessler directs a stem cell research institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He says Kirk is backing legislation that's "absolutely essential for the field'' because uncertainty over federal funding discourages young scientists from doing research on stem cells.
Kirk says stem cell research offers "the best promise'' to cure certain diseases. The Illinois Republican says, if senior Democratic senators choose not to move the stem cell legislation in this Congress, he will. He says court challenges to taxpayer-financed stem cell research make legislation necessary.
A study out, known as the Illinois Youth Survey, shows fewer Illinois teens are smoking cigarettes and drinking large amounts of alcohol at once, but the survey says marijuana use appears to be steady.
Beth Welbes with the Center for Prevention Research and Development at the University of Illinois said nationally, marijuana use is going up. She said the state findings show more teens are downplaying the risks associated with smoking marijuana.
"The state rates and the state estimates are really valuable, especially for state policy makers because they can take a look and they can see where do we need to direct our resources in terms of substance abuse prevention and other health areas," Welbes said.
The survey also reported a drop in DUIs among high school seniors, and a decrease in the use of illicit drugs, like cocaine and methamphetamine.
The FDA has approved a new drug for the treatment of hepatitis C, a viral disease that attacks the liver and can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
In the U.S., existing medications cure only about 50 percent of patients.
Dr. Bruce Bacon of Saint Louis University led a clinical trial for the new drug, boceprevir.
Bacon says adding boceprevir to the standard two-drug treatment significantly improved cure rates, especially for patients who have been treated before and failed to recover.
Most Americans with hepatitis C have what's known as the genotype 1 form of the virus.
"The numbers are more like 20 percent with the standard therapy being retreated versus about 60 to 65 percent cure rate with the addition of boceprevir," Bacon said, referring to people with genotype 1.
A similar drug, telaprevir, is expected to get FDA approval by the end of the month.
Dr. Adrian Di Bisceglie, also from Saint Louis University, helped test how patients responded when telaprevir was added to the current two-drug treatment.
"In a treatment regimen that has telaprevir, the cure rates or rates of sustained virologic response go from the 40 percent number that I mentioned in patients with genotype 1, to 75 percent," Di Bisceglie said.
Both boceprevir (trade name Victrelis, by Merck) and telaprevir (trade name Incivek, by Vertex) are expected on the market in June.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than three million Americans have hepatitis C, and about three-quarters of them don't know they have it.
The head of five research facilities at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus says a name change has more to do with identity than anything else.
The Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability is now the Prairie Research Institute. Executive Director Bill Shilts says with the previous name, serving as home for five state surveys was often the source of confusion. But he said the new one ties facilities like the Illinois State Water Survey and Illinois Natural History Survey to others in the country, more closely identified with the Institute's mission.
And Shilts said the five surveys complement one another.
"This is a way to make all of the surveys related to that name," he said. "So that when one survey does something that's of value to the public, to the state, to the university, it reflects on all of the surveys rather than just the individual survey's name like it used to be when we were part of state government."
Shilts said being recognized as an institute with many different disciplines like water, geology, and biological resources gives his facilities a focus for the multi-disciplinary manner in which work is carried out.
The five surveys were established on the U of I campus in 2008, coming from Illinois' Department of Natural Resources. The name change was recently approved by the University's board of Trustees, but state legislators still have to approve it. The Prairie Research Institute has 700 employees and a 2010 budget of nearly $70-million.
The cicadas are coming ---- but not just the cicadas that can be heard every summer.
These are periodical cicadas that emerge from the ground for mating in 13 and 17 year cycles. This particular brood of 13-year cicada is known as the Great Southern Brood, or Brood XIX. And they will soon be seen and heard in the billions in a region that stretches from the southeast out to Missouri and Arkansas --- and includes central and southern Illinois.
University of Illinois entomologist James Appleby said you will know when the Great Southern Brood is here, by their mating song.
"Their song is referred to as the long, drawn-out word, 'Pharoah,'" Appleby said. "So they'll go, 'Phar-aoh, phar-aoh, phar-oah' - that's the song. And it's extremely loud when all these males emerge."
While the males make all the noise, the female cicadas do all the damage ... to the branches of trees where they lay their eggs. Appleby said mature trees usually survive the onslaught, but the cicadas can pose a risk to younger, smaller trees. With the huge numbers of cicadas expected, he says homeowners may want to take precautions.
"If you have a young tree that you just purchased this year, perhaps last year, to protect it, I think it would be a good idea to get some nylon meshing or some type of netting and just net the tree ... the branches, because that's where the females will deposit their eggs," said Appleby, who makes bi-monthly appearances on WILL's "Illinois Gardener".
Cicadas from the Great Southern Brood have already emerged from underground in many southern states. Locally, Appleby said he has already seen the chimney-like exit holes that cicadas make in preparation for their lives above-ground. They will die off in about five weeks, at which time their eggs will hatch, sending a brood of nymphs underground, to emerge in 2024.
When the space shuttle Endeavour takes its final flight it will carry the handiwork of a Chicago-area scientist.
The shuttle will carry six postage-stamp sized samples of thin films made from specially engineered materials called grapheme and carbon nanotubes. Astronauts will mount them on the International Space Station, where they'll stay for at least six months.
The idea is to see how the nanomaterials hold up to the powerful radiation in space, which can cook normal materials, like silicon, used in computers. Northwestern University professor Mark Hersam, who created the samples, said the stakes are high for electronics in space.
"If you had a system on your spacecraft being controlled by a computer and all the sudden it didn't compute correctly, that would lead to serious problems," Hersam said.
The Endeavour was set to blast off Friday afternoon in what was expected to be the second-to-last shuttle flight for NASA, but the flight's take off was put was hold due to a technical problem.
(Photo courtesy of Andrew Campbell/Northwestern University)
Researchers in Chicago are beginning a study Tuesday that they hope will extend the life of urban trees.
All those trees you see lining shady Chicago sidestreets actually have it pretty rough. Their average lifespan is less than ten years. That's compared to fifty or sixty years for their suburban cousins.
Bryant Scharenbroch is a soil scientist with the Morton Arboretum. He said all those city roads and buildings make soil too dense.
"When you compact the soil to make it suitable for infrastructure, you're also making it kind of a hostile environment for trees," he said."
So scientists are testing out biochar, a sort of super-heated charcoal made from plant matter. Ancient Amazonians were using biochar on their crops centuries ago, but its affects on trees haven't been widely studied, said researcher Kelby Fite, with Bartlet Tree Experts.
Biochar adds nutrients into the soil, like compost, but lasts a lot longer.
"So compost may degrade in a matter of a handful of years, whereas biochar could be stable for hundreds, or even thousands of years," Fite said.
The researchers will monitor sample trees in the Bucktown neighborhood for the next couple years.
Disappointment today at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, as the museum was snubbed in its bid to host one of the retiring space shuttles.
The Adler piped the NASA announcement live into its 3-D Universe Theater. The assembled crowd offered polite applause as the winning institutions were announced: museums in Los Angeles, New York, Washington, DC and Florida.
Adler president Paul Knappanberger offered congratulations, though said he was a bit perplexed by the New York museum's success. He says it's a missed opportunity for the planetarium.
"A shuttle would have been a game changer, I think," he told reporters. "It's a national treasure, it's an icon of American achievement. I don't think any other artifact approaches that icon status."
The Adler is expected to get one of those other artifacts as a consolation prize -- the shuttle flight simulator used to train NASA astronauts. It's reportedly three stories tall and replicates the shuttle's crew compartment. Knappenberger called it the "next best thing," and said the museum will likely build a new enclosure to hold it.
Knappenberger says the failed shuttle campaign was funded almost completely with donated money and services.
(Photo courtesy of John F. Kennedy Space Center/Wikimedia Commons)
Chicago's Adler Planetarium is scheduled to find out Tuesday if it will be the future home of a NASA space shuttle.
NASA has four space shuttles it's looking to put on display. Adler Planetarium is one of 21 museums or science centers bidding to be the new home of a space shuttle.
The Smithsonian Institution has already laid claim to the oldest of the shuttles, Discovery. That leaves the fates of Atlantis, Endeavor and Enterprise up in the air. NASA estimates the cost to display one of the shuttles is around $28.8 million.
Adler Planetarium is facing off against other institutions such as the Museum of Flight in Seattle and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. NASA is scheduled to announce the winning homes of the shuttles on Tuesday at noon from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
(Photo courtesy of John F. Kennedy Space Center/Wikimedia Commons)
Trace amounts of radiation from Japan have shown up in Illinois, but state officials say there's no reason for concern.
Minute levels of radioactive materials have been detected in both northern and central Illinois. The state's Emergency Management Agency says radioactive iodine was found in grass clippings in Will County and in an air sample collected at a lab in Springfield.
The materials are believed to be related to the troubled nuclear reactors in Japan, but Illinois' Director Jonathon Monken says the levels are extremely low and present no danger. For example, the air sample is 200,000 times lower than what is allowed for nuclear plant effluent.
Traces of iodine have shown up in other states. In Illinois, the state has stepped up its monitoring of grass, air, milk and eggs in the wake of the Japan crisis.
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