Around UW Medicine: News

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Chemical makes blind mice see

A chemical that temporarily restores some vision to blind mice may hold the key to helping people with age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of acquired blindness in the developed world, and retinitis pigmentosa, the most common inherited form of blindness. A team of UW Medicine researchers, in collaboration with scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Munich, conducted the study. They found that a molecule, AAQ, can temporarily sensitize damaged neurons to light. The findings appear in the July 26, 2012 issue of Neuron.

Embryonic stem cells: a resemblance to cancer

Seattle researchers, including UW Medicine faculty, have reported that shortly after a mouse embryo begins to form, some of its stem cells undergo a dramatic metabolic shift to enter the next stage of development. These stem cells begin using and producing energy like cancer cells, a discovery published in EMBO, the European Molecular Biology Organization journal. “These findings not only have implications for stem cell research and the study of how embryos grow and take shape, but also for cancer therapy,” said the senior author of the study, Hannele Ruohola-Baker, UW professor in the Department of Biochemistry.

Mapping a baby’s genome

For the first time, researchers have determined virtually the entire genome of a fetus using only a blood sample from the pregnant woman and a saliva specimen from the father. Using new, high-speed DNA sequencing and statistical and computational methods, the UW genomics research team, led by Jay Shendure, M.D., Ph.D., UW associate professor in the Department of Genome Sciences, reconstructed the entire genetic code of an unborn baby boy. The findings were verified by looking at the baby’s DNA after birth, and the parts of the baby’s genetic material inherited from each parent were predicted with more than 98-percent accuracy. Researchers also were able to identify 39 of 44 new genetic mutations before the baby was born. In the future, the technique could make it possible to quickly scan for some 3,500 genetic disorders before birth without physically disturbing either fetus or mother. The paper, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, was featured on the front page of The New York Times on June 7, 2012.

Engineering a kidney tissue chip to predict drug safety

Tissue chips combine miniature models of living organ tissues and a transparent microchip. Ranging in size from a coin to a house key, the chips are lined with living cells and contain features designed to replicate the complex biological function of a specific organ. Through new funding from the National Institutes of Health, Jonathan Himmelfarb, M.D., UW professor of medicine in the Division of Nephrology, director of the Kidney Research Institute and Joseph W. Eschbach, M.D. Endowed Chair in Kidney Research, will lead researchers in designing and testing a human kidney microphysiological system. The goal: to engineer a chip that will simulate the human body closely enough to predict the safety of new drugs prior to human testing.

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Patient Care

UW Medicine’s hospitals: best in the state

In U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of “America’s Best Hospitals,” released in July, UW Medical Center was ranked the No. 1 hospital — with Harborview Medical Center at No. 2 — in both the state of Washington and in the Seattle metropolitan area. Valley Medical Center ranked No. 7 in the state and No. 4 in the metro area. The ratings also include rankings in specialties, and UW Medical Center was nationally ranked in cancer, diabetesendocrinology, ear, nose and throat, geriatrics, gynecology, nephrology, neurology and neurological surgery, orthopaedics, pulmonology and rehabilitation. Harborview was nationally ranked in diabetes-endocrinology and orthopaedics.

UW Medicine Creates Palliative Care Center of Excellence

Providing outstanding, compassionate palliative care for patients with serious or life-threatening illness is important for the well-being of patients and families, and UW Medicine recently established a Palliative Care Center of Excellence to help patients and families receive top-quality palliative care. We will be exploring the new center, led by J. Randall Curtis, M.D., UW professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care, and the A. Bruce Montgomery, M.D.–American Lung Association Endowed Chair in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, in a future issue of the magazine.

Airlift Northwest turns 30

Airlift Northwest, UW Medicine’s flying ICU, turned 30 this year. Read more about the program’s life-saving care.

UW Medical Center offers new therapy for deadly brain tumor

UW Medical Center is one of 15 clinical centers in the United States and the first in the Pacific Northwest to be certified to use a new medical device, the Novo- TTF-100A, to treat adult patients with recurrent glioblastoma. Glioblastoma is a deadly and common form of brain tumor. The NovoTTF-100A is a portable, non-invasive medical device that uses a low-intensity electric field to inhibit cancer-cell growth within the tumor.

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Our School: No. 1 in primary care for the 19th consecutive year

U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings of graduate and professional programs were released in March. For the 19th consecutive year, the UW School of Medicine was ranked the No. 1 medical school in the nation for training in primary care. Our programs also were ranked No. 1 in family medicine and No. 1 in rural medicine (both for the 21st year in a row), further proof of excellence in primary care and the effectiveness of our five-state WWAMI medical education program. Other educational strengths ranked by the magazine include: AIDS (No. 4), geriatrics (tie for No. 7), pediatrics (No. 7), and internal medicine (No. 8). Bioengineering, jointly offered with the College of Engineering, was No. 7.

Student receives Minority Scholars Award

Eriberto Michel, a second-year medical student at the UW School of Medicine, was one of 13 students nationally to receive the American Medical Association (AMA) Foundation’s 2012 Minority Scholars Award. This scholarship recognizes academic achievement and commitment to eliminating healthcare disparities. Michel, who hails from a rural farming community in Eastern Washington, served as the clinical director of a student-run free clinic that offers services to immigrant day laborers in greater Seattle. He also was the service director of the Latino Medical Student Association, among many other commitments and accomplishments.

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(The five-state region served by the UW School of Medicine: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.)

Improving depression care for rural, lowincome patients in WWAMI

A partnership between the federal government and the Social Innovation Fund will support improved depression care in medically underserved rural communities in the WWAMI region. The funding will help certain non-profit clinics serving low-income adults to implement IMPACT (Improving Mood-Promoting Access to Collaborative Treatment). IMPACT, an evidence-based depression care model developed and tested at UW Medicine, will add a trained care manager and a consulting psychiatrist to every participating practice; expected results include better patient outcomes and lower healthcare costs. Read more at

Medical consultation for remote areas

Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) allows primary-care providers to consult with specialists based at academic medical centers. John Scott, M.D., Fel. ’05, UW assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, launched Project ECHO — originally established at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine — in Washington in 2009. Started to help clinicians in remote areas evaluate and treat hepatitis C, the project has expanded to include tele-conferences in chronic pain, psychiatry, addiction and HIV/AIDS. This work was recently recognized with $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Care Innovation Awards, designed to help increase access, improve quality and reduce costs of care for 6,000 high-risk Medicare and Medicaid patients across Washington and New Mexico. Learn more at

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Facebook, Google founders — and now UW Medicine faculty

What do the founders of Facebook and Google have in common with Abraham Flaxman, Ph.D., UW assistant professor of global health at the UW Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME)? All of these individuals received the TR35 Award, MIT’s prestigious list of the top 35 innovators in the world under the age of 35. Although the famous tech names are past winners, Flaxman — an expert in data quantification — is among this year’s group of awardees, announced in August. The TR35 recipients are featured in the September-October issue of Technology Review.


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