Illinois Public Media News
The University of Illinois' College of Engineering expects to break ground late this fall on a building that's been in the works for about 40 years.
The 230,000 square foot, four-story building will combine much of the research now spread between different facilities at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Nearly $50 million in state capital funds and $35 million in private donations are already committed to a project that Professor Phil Krein said was next in line to the Lincoln Hall renovations in terms of priority. It will be located just south of the Beckman Institute.
He said 2,000 students at ECE, the largest department on the Urbana campus, now split up their work in six different buildings. Krein said this will effectively house the department in one area. ECE is often mentioned on par with the same department at schools like MIT and UC Berkeley. Krein said this new building can put the U of I's department on top.
"With special emphasis these days on the electric power grid and some other basic infrastructure things, air traffic control, and so forth, the building actually can become kind of a living laboratory for power grid advances in the future as well as communications infrastructure and many other related things," he said.
Department head Andreas Cangellaris credits U of I President Hogan and Governor Pat Quinn for freeing up the capital funds for it. He said this building will allow many of the school's 2,000 students to study various innovations in the same space instead of all the buildings currently used.
"We have students who learn from things having to do with electronics and integrated circuits all the way to alternative energy, cyberphysical systems, and bio-related education that requires very special laboratories," Cangellaris said.
The U of I expects to seek out bids for construction by mid-October, with groundbreaking in November. Construction is expected to take about two and a-half years.
Indiana residents who felt Tuesday's earthquake that shook the East Coast are being urged to report those tremors to a federal agency.
The state Department of Homeland Security and the Indiana Geological Survey is asking Hoosiers to submit online reports if they felt any tremors at 1:53 p.m. Tuesday, when a magnitude 5.9 quake centered below Mineral, Va., rattled the East Coast.
People as far away as Michigan have reported feeling tremors from that quake. The more data scientists receive from other states where citizens reported feeling the earth shift the more accurately they can gauge the quake's intensity and the area affected by it.
To report feeling tremors, people should go to the U.S. Geological Survey website. Then, they should click on the "Did You Feel It? - Tell Us!'' link.
Illinois is joining a growing number of states making oral chemotherapy treatments more affordable.
For years, cancer drugs were usually injected. But scientific advances have made oral treatment possible, and in many cases, preferred. The problem is they usually come with a higher cost and insurance policies will not always pick up the tab.
Governor Pat Quinn has signed a law that will require health coverage of both types of treatment at a similar cost to the patient. Supporters of the new law say it will improve the quality of care patients receive.
"As an oncologist, I see firsthand the struggles cancer patients go through as they fight this devastating disease," said Dr. Katherine Griem, chair of the American Cancer Society's Illinois chapter. "One thing they shouldn't have to struggle with is how they get the treatment they need."
Griem said the law, which will take effect in January, will give those fighting cancer one less thing to worry about.
Oral chemotherapy drugs are preferred for certain types of cancer. They are also part of the growing trend of so called 'smart drugs" that are designed to attack only cancer cells, which better protects the immune system. Griem said smart drugs target the cancer and have been found to result in fewer side effects. While they come with a higher price tag, they can also reduce therapy time and save on long term medical costs.
More than 50 graduate students and young scientists from all over the world are at the University of Illinois this week to study efforts in cutting down on greenhouse gases.
They are taking part in a summer school program put on by the IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme, a group created under an Implementing Agreement with the International Energy Agency.
Robert Finley, the director of the Advanced Energy Technology Initiative with the U of I's Prairie Research Institute, said Illinois is home to significant research in carbon sequestration. He said part of the summer program involves visits to Decatur's Archer Daniels Midland Company, where a project is underway to store about a million metric tons of carbon dioxide created by ADM's ethanol production.
"It is really gratifying to see the level of interest and help these students gain understanding that they might potentially utilize in their career as we try to address climate change issues," Finley said.
By the end of the week, Finley said the students will share presentations on topics ranging from the best approaches to capturing carbon dioxide to the cost of storing it. He said he is hopeful the students will advance this technology.
"It's an important technology to perfect because there are a lot of questions about it," Finley said. "People ask is it safe? Is it affective? What is it going to do to the cost of electricity? So, all those questions need to be answered to make sure we have this available as one of the portfolio of options."
The summer school's presence at the U of I marks the first time in its five year history that it has been held in the United States.
More kids may be suffering from food allergies than was previously thought, according to new findings from a Chicago researcher.
Research has already shown that food allergies seem to be on the rise, and now a study of more than 40,000 children shows that one in 13 have a food allergy. That's about twice as many as some recent estimates.
Ruchi Gupta, a pediatrician with Children's Memorial Hospital and Northwestern Medicine and lead author of the study, said some 2.5 million children - including her own daughter - have severe allergies.
"If many of these children, about 40 percent, ingest food that they are allergic to, they could have a reaction that could lead to death. It could be that serious," Gupta said.
Peanut allergies were the most prevalent, followed by milk and shellfish.
Gupta also found that Asian and African-American kids were more likely to go undiagnosed than white children. The study is published in the journal, Pediatrics.
Excavation work continues at the site that once housed a manufactured gas plant in Champaign.
Ameren Illinois is working on the corner of 5th and Hill Streets to clear soil that is suspected of having traces of the pollutant coal tar. Most of the work to remove the soil has taken place underneath a large protective tent, but on Thursday workers dug about three feet of dirt outside of the tent.
That sparked concerns from the health care advocacy group, Champaign County Health Care Consumers. The group said a monitoring device that checks for dangerous chemicals went off, raising the possibility that nearby communities might be at risk.
"The vapors and the dust that comes up from this type of excavation are highly toxic and this is a highly irresponsible activity to do," the group's executive director, Claudia Lennhoff, said.
But Ameren spokesperson Leigh Morris dismissed that claim, saying no air monitoring equipment recorded anything that would have raised health or safety concerns. Morris said both Ameren and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency were checking the excavation area Thursday with air monitoring equipment, which did not identify any red flags.
"There was never any type of a health concern," Morris explained. "There was some dust. The dust was caused from gravel. We did receive one complaint about that, and we watered the gravel down to end the dust problem."
The excavation happened on the edge of a gate, near two buildings used by the Center for Women in Transition. Site supervisor Jacob Blanton said there was no way the tent could have been moved with nearby power lines and a narrow alley in the way.
Morris said some additional digging outside of the protective tent will likely be performed in July.
Back in April, Champaign agreed to plug a pipe suspected of having dangerous chemicals near the Boneyard Creek, which extends to the site where the gas plant once stood. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has said there is no evidence to suggest coal tar has made its way from the plant into the pipeline.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
They're not cures, but two novel drugs produced unprecedented gains in survival in separate studies of people with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, doctors reported Sunday.
In one study, an experimental drug showed so much benefit so quickly in people with advanced disease that those getting a comparison drug were allowed to switch after just a few months.
The drug, vemurafenib, targets a gene mutation found in about half of all melanomas. The drug is being developed by Genentech, part of Swiss-based Roche, and Plexxikon Inc., part of the Daiichi Sankyo Group of Japan.
The second study tested Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Yervoy, a just-approved medicine for newly diagnosed melanoma patients, and found it nearly doubled the number who survived at least three years.
"Melanoma has just seen a renaissance of new agents," and more are being tested, said Dr. Allen Lichter, chief executive of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
The new studies were presented Sunday at the oncology group's annual meeting in Chicago and published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.
"This is really an unprecedented time of celebration for our patients," said Dr. Lynn Schuchter, of the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Center. The new drugs are not by themselves cures, but "the future is going to be to build upon the success" by testing combinations of these newer drugs, she said.
Melanoma is on the rise. There were 68,000 new cases and 8,700 deaths from it in the United States last year, the American Cancer Society estimates. Only two drugs had been approved to treat it, with limited effectiveness, until Yervoy, an immune-system therapy, won approval in March.
The experimental drug, vemurafenib, is aimed at a specific gene mutation, making it the first so-called targeted therapy for the disease. The drug got attention when a whopping 70 percent of those with the mutation responded to it in early safety testing.
The new study, led by Dr. Paul Chapman of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, was the key test of its safety and effectiveness. It involved 675 patients around the world with inoperable, advanced melanoma and the gene mutation. They received vemurafenib pills twice a day or infusions every three weeks of the chemotherapy drug dacarbazine.
After six months, 84 percent of people on vemurafenib were alive versus 64 percent of the others.
Less than 10 percent on the drug suffered serious side effects - mostly skin rashes, joint pain, fatigue, diarrhea and hair loss. About 18 percent of patients developed a less serious form of skin cancer. More than a third needed their dose adjusted because of side effects.
The study is continuing, and many remain on the drug, including one of Schuchter's patients: Brian Frantz, a 50-year-old former firefighter from Springfield, Va.
Within a week or two of starting on the drug in September, "we noticed an improvement" and shrinkage in his many tumors, he said. "It was just a miracle."
Schuchter said that's typical of how patients have responded to the drug.
"Within 72 hours, their symptoms improve, pain medicines can be reduced," she said.
The study is a landmark and the results are "very impressive" in people who historically have not fared very well, said Dr. April Salama, a Duke University melanoma specialist.
The study was sponsored by the drug's makers, and many of the researchers consult or work for them. The companies are seeking approval to sell the drug and a companion test for the gene mutation in the U.S. and Europe. A Genentech spokeswoman said the price has not yet been determined.
The other new drug, Yervoy, is not a chemotherapy but a treatment to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer. Dr. Jedd Wolchok of Memorial Sloan-Kettering led the first test of it in newly diagnosed melanoma patients.
About 502 of them received dacarbazine and half also got Yervoy. After one year, 47 percent of those on Yervoy were alive versus 36 percent of the others. At three years, survival was 21 percent with Yervoy versus 12 percent for chemotherapy alone.
Side effects included diarrhea, rash and fatigue. More than half on the new drug had major side effects versus one quarter of those on chemotherapy alone.
Bristol-Myers Squibb paid for the study and many researchers consult or work for the company. Treatment with Yervoy includes four infusions over three months and costs $30,000 per infusion.
New England Journal of Medicine: http://www.nejm.org
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.
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