November 2008

News round up

The health science research at the U of M’s Academic Health Center is regularly featured in the local and national news. Stem cell research, biomedical construction projects, and cancer rates in American Indians are just a few of the more recent news stories coming out of the AHC.

At other times, a news item may not mention the U of M, however, a primary element of the story will have its origin within the history of the U of M’s health sciences or there is a similar point to be made using information from the U.

The following are three topics from this last week’s news with an AHC historical perspective.

Man Cured of AIDS after Transplant
This news out of Germany received a lot of coverage in the press and even more skepticism from medical experts. However, the basic point of this story is that a man with leukemia received a bone marrow stem cell transplant that also helped to eradicate the presence of HIV in his body. Bone marrow transplants as a means to cure immune disorders and cancers have a forty year history at the U of M since Dr. Robert Good performed the first successful bone marrow transplant in 1968. Although the U of M had no part in the findings coming from Germany, the use of bone marrow transplants as a means to cure blood disorders is a major part of the U’s contribution to medical research.

Fewer than 1 in 5 US Adults Smoke
img0089.jpgThe CDC is reporting that for the first time since the tracking of smoking rates began in the 1960s the US adult average in now below 20%. In 1962, President Kennedy commissioned the Surgeon General and a committee of experts to report on the role of smoking on health. Their report came out in 1964. The ten person committee included Dr. Leonard Schuman who was the head of epidemiology in the U of M’s School of Public Health from 1954 to 1983. The document to the left is Surgeon General Luther Terry’s invitation to Dr. Schuman as well as his acceptance. It also includes a note from the then dean of the College of Medical Sciences, Robert Howard, encouraging Schuman to brace himself for the “slings and arrows of an outraged tobacco industry.”

Google Predicts the Flu
As another example of how Google and our health are becoming more entwined, Google released search data that seemed to predict a spike of reported flu cases in the mid-Atlantic states. An increase in web searches for flu symptoms mirrored a CDC report on confirmed cases two weeks later. As a comparison, I checked the download statistics for the Uof M’s pandemic influenza preparedness document in the AHC’s digital archives. Downloads have remained fairly consistent for the last three months. Hopefully this is an indicator that we will only suffer through a mild to normal flu season this year.

This machine kills

In November, the American Cancer Society sponsors its annual Great American Smokeout and the Lung Cancer Alliance designates November as National Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

The 1956 photograph below highlights early research at the University of Minnesota linking lung cancer with smoking. Dr. Harold S. Diehl, then Dean of the College of Medical Sciences, is showcasing a machine designed to chain smoke cigarettes in order to collect tar samples for research.


A sign on the table explains that these “investigations are being carried out to study this apparent relationship” between smoking and lung cancer. A conical flask on the table collects the smoke pulled from the cigarettes.

Dr. Diehl retired as dean in 1958 after serving in the position since 1935. He then went to work full-time for the American Cancer Society as senior vice president for research and medical affairs and deputy executive vice president, a position he had held since November 1957. For ten years Diehl oversaw the ACS’s scientific research programs that bolstered policy positions aimed at reducing illnesses attributed to smoking.