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April 5, 2006 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
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University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory among sponsors of BIO 2006 Convention April 9-12

The University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory are among the primary sponsors of the BIO 2006 Annual International Convention, which will bring more than 20,000 executives, investors, journalists, policy makers and scientists from more than 60 countries to McCormick place from Sunday, April 9, until Wednesday, April 12, to discuss the latest developments in biotechnology. This year the annual BIO meeting, which began in 1993, comes to the Midwest for the first time.

iBIO Featured Researchers

The Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization (iBio) has named four researchers at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory among “The Top 20 Midwest Life Scientists.” These four are among many scientists at the University and at Argonne who can provide interviews on selected topics related to BIO 2006:

Milan Mrksich, Professor in Chemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, University of Chicago. Areas of Expertise: synthetic chemistry, biochips, biotechnology, cell biology.
Mrksich combines synthetic chemistry with materials science to study important problems in cell biology. He develops biochips for a host of biological and biotechnological applications, including drug discovery or as a diagnostic for biological warfare agents. He has patented several chip-based technologies for rapidly screening biological molecules for active compounds. He recently founded WMR Biomedical Inc., a medical devices company.

Technology Review magazine named him one of the world’s “100 Top Young Innovators” in 2002.


Daphne Preuss, Professor in Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, University of Chicago. Areas of Expertise: Botany, plant engineering, genetics.
Preuss’s study of the DNA sequences that control chromosomal inheritance has led to developments that could
significantly impact agricultural technology. In 2000, Preuss founded Chicago-based Chromatin Inc., which uses patented mini-chromosome technologies to develop new seed products and crop plants with multiple genetic traits. 

She currently works to enhance allergy and asthma therapy through improved diagnostics or therapeutics that mitigate symptoms or promote immune tolerance. Discover magazine named her to its list of “20 Promising Young Scientists in 2000.”


Millicent Firestone, Chemist, Materials Science Division, Argonne National Laboratory. Areas of expertise: molecular medicine and molecular therapeutics, based on materials science and nanotechnology.
Firestone specializes in the use of  polymers to restore damaged cell membranes, preventing tissue death.
Firestone has discovered a material that mimics biological membranes that can be used to study the native behavior and structure of membrane and soluble proteins — many for the first time. She co-leads bionanocomposite research efforts at Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials. This research attempts to fuse biological and inorganic materials that could lead to creation of an entirely new class of usefully tailored materials. She also leads a Department of Enegy-Basic Energy Sciences program on biomolecular materials.


Andrzej Joachimiak, Director, Structural Biology Center and Midwest Center for Structural Genomics, Argonne National Laboratory. Areas of expertise: structural biology, genomics, and biomedically important proteins.
Joachimiak focuses on understanding human and environmental health by imaging in three dimensions the molecules that control and regulate it. He has streamlined the time and cost involved in determining the structure of biological molecules. Earlier this year, researchers at Argonne’s Structural Biology Center, which he directs, contributed their 1,000 structure to the Protein Data Bank. This data bank houses the molecular structures of all proteins characterized so far and makes them available to researchers worldwide for further study.


Additional projects of biotechnological interest

Chicago Biomedical Consortium. In February, the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust made a grant of $5 million to the Consortium, a collaboration of Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago. The grant, the first of a planned five-year donation of $5 million per year for a total of $25 million, is designed to support and stimulate innovative multi-institutional collaborations in research and education that will enable the Chicago area to become a leader in the biomedical sciences.


Drug Discovery. A drug developed at the University of Chicago reverses one of the most troubling problems caused by opioid-based pain relievers. Each year, more than 250,000 terminal cancer patients take opioids, such as morphine, for pain relief. About half of those patients experience constipation so severe that many choose to forgo the pain relief in order to avoid the constipation. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and Progenics Pharmaceuticals inc. have agreed to jointly develop and commercialize the drug, which has completed Phase 3 clinical trials.


Digital Bacteria. Scientists at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory last year constructed a computer simulation that allows them to study the relationship between biochemical fluctuations within a single cell and the cell’s behavior as it interacts with other cells in its environment. The simulation, called AgentCell, has possible applications in cancer research, drug development and combating bioterrorism. Other simulations of biological systems are limited to the molecular level, the single-cell level or the level of bacterial populations. AgentCell can simultaneously simulate activity on all three scales, something its creators believe no other software can do.


National Microbial Pathogen Data Resource Center. Since 2004, a computer database has been helping biomedical scientists identify and exploit the weak spots in scores of deadly microorganisms.

Overseeing the effort is the Computation Institute, a joint effort between the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, and the Fellowship for Interpretation of Genomes, a non-profit organization specializing in bioinformatics tool development and comparative genomics research. The database, called National Microbial Pathogen Data Resource Center (NMPDR) helps scientists accelerate their research into the biology and evolution of deadly microorganisms and develop methods for their control.


Web links of biotechnological interest

Research at Chicago:

Among the video interviews and profiles posted on this site are several relevant to BIO 2006:

Poloxamer-188: A Revolutionary Approach to Healing Injury. University researchers use Poloxamer-188 to seal cells damaged by electric shock in order to enhance tissue survival. Interviews with Rafael Lee, M.D., Professor of Plastic Surgery, and Ka Yee Lee, Associate Professor in Chemistry.

Protective Hypothermia. Revolutionary treatment for cardiac arrest minimizes damage using a very “cool” method. Interview with Lance Becker, M.D., Professor in Clinical Medicine. Beckers collaborators are Terry Vanden Hoek, Associate Professor in Medicine, and Kenneth Kasza, Energy Technology Division, Argonne National Laboratory.

Building Chromosomes. A new technique for adding genetic material to plants may impact agriculture and healthcare. Interview with Daphne Preuss, Professor in Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology and Howard Hughes
Medical Institute Investigator.

Emerging Infectious Diseases. New research on the mechanisms that bacteria use to cause human disease may help produce new therapeutics. Interview with Olaf Schneewind, M.D., Professor and Chairman, Department of Microbiology, and Director, Great Lakes Center of Excellence.

Regional Centers of Excellence for Biodefense. Interview with Olaf Schneewind.
Last modified at 09:54 AM CST on Wednesday, April 12, 2006.

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