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Issue: 10/13/99

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1999 UIC University Scholars


October 13, 1999

The annual University Scholar awards, presented since 1985 by the U of I Foundation, honor outstanding faculty on all three campuses. Senior scholars receive $12,000 a year for three years; junior scholars receive $6,000 a year for three years.

Andrei Gudkov came to Chicago in 1990 from the Moscow Cancer Research Center, but he doesn't have to be homesick -- many of his former research partners work with him at UIC.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, members of Gudkov's research team left to work in labs all over the world. Once he established a lab here, he recruited many of them to rejoin him.

"It was only natural to work together again," he said.

Gudkov's interest lies in the mechanisms of cell behavior, but he has spent many years looking at ways to treat cancer.

Recently, Gudkov and his colleagues discovered that deactivating one of the body's key cancer protection shields may offer a simple way for doctors to lessen the debilitating and life-threatening side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

"Cancer treatment is usually such a pain that people feel bad not only physically but also emotionally and psychologically. Making this treatment more bearable would be a tremendous advantage for these patients," he said.

Gudkov and his team hope Phase I clinical trials testing the effectiveness of their discovery will begin sometime next year.

"This is definitely the first step, but it looks very promising," he said.

Gudkov's work is funded by almost $2 million in federal grants. He is a member of the review panels of the American Cancer Society, Illinois Division and the Cancer Treatment Research Foundation and the editorial board of Oncogene.

He has published close to 80 articles and holds four patents."Working in this department and for UIC has been stimulating and the atmosphere is very friendly. It has kept me here all these years." he said.

"Ever since I came to UIC, I felt a part of this university and it is great to be recognized from within the institution."

If Bill Nye, the Science Guy, had been around in 1960s China, Bin He would have been an avid viewer.

But television wasn't an obtainable commodity, so He opted for science journals -- many, many science journals.

And now, 30 years later, his childhood fascination has become his life's work.

He said it was a surprise to receive a University Scholar Award -- he hadn't even known he'd been nominated.

"There are so many outstanding senior faculty who deserve it. I have been lucky to watch how those at UIC conduct their research," He said.

"I think if you have good people surrounding you, you'll learn." Primarily working in biomedicine, He has devoted his research to understanding how the brain works.

He is working on medical imaging, which he hopes can someday be used for clinical diagnosis or cognitive study. Where once an EKG was used, He predicts that within 10 years machines like CAT scans will be replaced by imaging, which capture the rapidly changing dynamics of neuro-impulses in ways that the current technology of such machines cannot.

He's lofty goal is essentially to understand how high order brain functions, like memory, work.

"It's a whole system approach," he said, "looking at the dynamics between parts of the brain, the interactions between brain functions."

He also received a National Science Foundation Career Award, a Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Research Grant Award, and a Young Investigator Award from the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology.

He is listed in Who's Who in Science and Engineering for 1999.

Before coming to UIC, He received his Ph.D. with Highest Honors from the Tokyo Institute of Technology and completed postdocs at both Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"I think it was the right time and place," He said of his award.

"There are lots of others doing great, beneficial work here at UIC. But it's nice to have the recognition."

Richard R. John grew up in two very different worlds.

One was the storied past of Lexington, Mass., the birthplace of the United States. The other included the unfolding drama of the American space program.

"Sputnik in 1957 and the Battle of Lexington in 1775, those were two of the key events that shaped my youth," he said.

Though John worked in Lexington as a tour guide during the bicentennial of the American Revolution, he never forgot that his father was an aerospace engineer.

"In the East, you are surrounded by the past," he said. "But I could never forget that I was living in the 20th century, too."

John, who has been at UIC since 1991, was named a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars last year.

His first book, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse, won several national awards.

John said he wanted to write a book about something no one had written about before.

"The book grew out of an interest in large-scale systems, such as the post office," he said. "The post office touched many lives directly.

"It helped create a special kind of public space that came to symbolize both the promise and the perils of American democracy."

John's University Scholar award will allow him to devote time to his second book, tentatively titled Equal Access for All: The Civic Origins of the Information Age.

The book will focus on the study of communications policy in America between the 1830s and 1910. It includes case studies of the telegraph giant Western Union and the early years of AT&T.

John, who earned a bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. from Harvard University, draws on his research while teaching.

"UIC students come from such a wonderfully wide variety of backgrounds," he said. "It's a mix that makes for fascinating discussions, and that helps to keep my mind on the kinds of people that I hope will be reading my book."

Although John's schedule can be a bit hectic with the research for his new book and teaching, he isn't getting any sleep anyway. John and his wife, Nancy, had a son just seven weeks ago.

They named the child Rodda, a Cornish surname, in honor of John's ancestors.

John said he has taken advantage of his night hours to organize research for his second book.

"I could do research forever," he said.

Though it seems unlikely, physicist John Marko has a penchant for experimental research using the cells of newt eyes.

His field -- the study of the material properties of biomolecules and cell structures -- is so new that the practical applications are both far-reaching and nebulous.

"So little is known of the mechanical innards of cells," he said, adding that the usual approach to cell research is to focus on its chemistry.

Marko and his team of four graduate students and three undergraduates look at the mechanisms and material properties of the biomaterials involved in cell division, often using cells from newts.

"If we understand cell division," Marko said, "we'll understand how mistakes that lead to certain cancers are made, for instance."

Although many cancers result from genetic mutations, Marko said others stem from errors in cell division.

Marko has been involved in the development of "micromechanical" approaches to the study of cells and biomolecules.

Marko plans to use the award's stipend to fund travel to several international labs conducting similar research. He'll also host visitors from those labs and improve facilities for his research, already funded by grants from the Whitaker Foundation and the UIC Campus Research Board.

"Physics involves both insights into mathematical theory and physical intuition," said Ph.D. student Michael Poirier, who works in Marko's lab and studied with him for more than two years.

"When you begin to ask the why, not the how, it becomes difficult.

John makes the connection between this seeming dichotomy. His lectures are really well presented and prepared."

Marko, who joined UIC as an assistant professor in 1996, has a joint appointment as an adjunct faculty member in the bioengineering department.

In 1998, he received a Career Award from the National Science Foundation. Originally from Canada, Marko received his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"You really don't have to dig very deep to ask the questions," he said, peering at a computer-generated reenactment of a chromosome dividing.

"When you run out of answers, that's where research begins."

During his 31-year career, Asrar Malik has worked to unlock the mysteries of receptor interactions that affect cell function.

He is particularly interested in vascular injury, a characteristic of inflammatory diseases.

Malik, who began his career in Canada, joined UIC in 1995 as the head of the department of pharmacology.

"The research and academic culture here is strong and there is continual growth. I am proud to be a part of this institution."

Malik wants to develop programs that take advantage of the genomics revolution (the decoding of the human genome) and develop new gene targets for therapy.

Recently named editor of the American Journal of Physiology (Lung), Malik has published close to 250 peer-reviewed papers, 69 theses, review articles and book chapters and more than 300 abstracts.

Kerry James Marshall is officially a University Scholar as well as a genius -- the scholar award bestowed upon him comes just two years after the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded him one of its prestigious "genius" grants.

His reaction?

"As I said then, I still have to work just as hard, if not harder, now that I have these awards.

"These are great honors, but what really matters is not that people are kind enough to designate you as a scholar or a genius -- but whether your work in the studio is meaningful enough and good enough to justify it."

Marshall has put UIC on the art-world map with large, colorful paintings that portray lower middle-class and middle-class African-Americans and "the ambivalence that black people feel about really joining and participating in American culture fully."

His work is included in the permanent collections of Chicago's Art Institute and Museum of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Boston.

Marshall has developed a philosophy that can be applied to his work and his approach to teaching.

"The stakes are very high -- it doesn't get easier to make art. What we don't need is another generation doing what the previous one was doing."

As an artist-scholar, Marshall shares his perspective, knowledge and passion with the next generation of artists being trained at UIC. It's a role that's important to him.

"I went to art school at a time when that type of rigorous approach was de-emphasized," he said.

"I want to help teach artists what they need to know shape art at the end of the century. They would learn it with or without me, but I help speed that process along.

"To make the choices that will enable you to challenge assumptions about how art is supposed to look, you need to understand what has come before is all about."

After earning a bachelor of science in physics from the University of West Indies, Charles Mills decided to switch to philosophy, from "the world of matter to the world of mind."

"My area of specialization now is social and political philosophy, so I look at questions of how societies work and issues of class, gender and race," he said. "In recent years I started focusing on race."

Only 1 percent of the faculty in philosophy departments in North America are African American or black, Mills says, and he has made a concerted effort to redress the balance.

Over the last two years, he has given more than 20 presentations in the U.S., the Caribbean, Canada, England and South Africa.

"Being from the Third World, you get a more global picture. That's where my Jamaican background comes into play."

Mills is the author of two books, including The Racial Contract and Blackness Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race.

The Racial Contract won a 1997 Myers Outstanding Book Award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America. It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

In recent years, he has taken a more mainstream liberal approach because "Marxism has fallen on hard times." He sees his work as a response to the demand for a more racially just social order.

"UIC is incredibly diverse, though manifested mostly in my 100-level classes. I taught 'Introduction to Ethics and Political Philosophy.' My classes were a melting pot of Latino, African-American, Asian.

"And then, at the higher levels -- 200 and 400 -- most of those people had vanished.

"What that reflects is that for people of color, philosophy has nothing to say to them. I think it's going to be a long process to make it more accessible," he said.

One day, John Pezzuto predicts, his research team's discoveries of plants that prevent cancer will be marketed as a pill or genetically engineered food.

Pezzuto has helped bring the college's ongoing program to test plants from around the world to the forefront of cancer prevention.

He is also searching for plant compounds to treat cancer, malaria, HIV and hepatitis B.

"There is a desperate need to develop some effective preventive therapies," said Pezzuto, associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Pharmacy.

The possibility of discovering drugs that can prevent or treat serious illnesses drives Pezzuto, but he also enjoys the process of discovery.

"We put programs together based on theory and never know what will emerge," he said, Some of these findings include the discoveries that betulinic acid, plentiful in birch bark, kills skin cancer cells; resveratrol, found in red grapes, works against three major stages of cancer development in mice.

"These chemicals were quite well-known to scientists but until we did our studies, no one paid any attention to them," Pezzuto said.

Pezzuto arrived at UIC in 1980 with a strong background in biochemistry, which he quickly applied to research looking at whether plants contain chemicals that prevent cancer. He and his colleagues developed a biology-based system for testing plants.

"The biology part serves as our eyes," Pezzuto said.

Vernon Steele, program director of cancer prevention at the National Cancer Institute, told the Chicago Tribune Pezzuto and his team have "one of the best set-ups in this country" for discovering natural products to prevent cancer.

The team has identified six compounds of interest to the National Cancer Institute, three being tested in animals.

Since arriving at UIC, Pezzuto has encouraged multidisciplinary research, bringing aboard experts from other departments including surgical oncology, chemistry, mathematics and statistics and computer science.

The College of Pharmacy's program to discover plant substances that prevent cancer each year provides training to about 15 graduate and post doctoral students and visiting scholars. These students and scholars have established similar programs at universities throughout the world.

"Our biggest impact is in the area of training. Largely due to our program, cancer chemoprevention has become a common discipline in places including Germany, Thailand, Korea, and some countries in Central America," Pezzuto said.

Pezzuto holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. He is the author of more than 250 articles in professional journals, co-inventor of patents, editor of three books, member of four international journal editorial boards, and editor-in-chief of Pharmaceutical Biology.

The National Cancer Institute in 1984 awarded Pezzuto with its Research Career Development Award and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 1990 awarded Pezzuto with a Research Fellowship at the University of Munich.

November 8, 2002

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