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Updated 10:00 AM April 4, 2005
 

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Research Notes

Need-based scholarships make success more likely

New research overseen by a U-M education professor shows low-income, high-achieving students who receive scholarships to attend four-year colleges are more likely to succeed academically than those who lack the added financial support.

"This is timely research, given that the federal government is considering an increase in Pell grants, and many states, including Michigan, are considering expansion of grant programs," says Edward St. John. He edited the research series published in the most recent volume of Reading on Equal Education, and recently was named the Algo D. Henderson Professor of Education.

Surveys were conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, comparing students who received Gates Millennium Scholarship (GMS) awards with a comparison group of students who met the same qualifications but did not receive awards.

The GMS program, administered by the United Negro College Fund and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has committed to funding 1,000 students a year over 20 years. Program applicants and comparison students all met rigorous academic requirements and had financial need. All were students of color—African American, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian Pacific Islander American and Hispanic.

Among the research findings:

• Students who applied for the program generally attended high schools that offered rigorous curriculum, including advanced placement courses;

• GMS recipients said they had encountered discrimination in high school and feared they would have difficulty paying for college, indicating a will to achieve even in the face of major barriers;

• Recipients were more likely than comparison students to be involved in civic and student activities.

Causes of death a Black-and-white issue

Social factors, including residential segregation and neighborhood quality, contribute to racial disparities in the death rates of white and Black Americans, according to an analysis by researchers at U-M and Indiana University (IU).

Large disparities persist for deaths due to homicide, heart disease and cancer, according to U-M researcher David R. Williams—a sociologist at the Institute for Social Research—and IU researcher Pamela Braboy Jackson, who tracked changes in Black and white deaths from five conditions during a 50-year period. The gap narrowed for deaths from the flu, pneumonia and suicide.

The analysis appears in the March/April 2005 issue of Health Affairs. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported the research.

Among the findings:

• For the two leading causes of death in the United States—heart disease and cancer—Blacks had death rates 30 percent higher than whites in 2000. In 1950, the two races had comparable death rates from heart disease and Blacks had lower death rates from cancer;

• The racial gap in homicide death rates narrowed between 1950 and 2000, but the homicide rate still was almost six times greater for Blacks than for whites;

• For flu and pneumonia—the seventh-leading cause of death—large racial differences in death rates existed in 1950, with Black mortality 70 percent higher than whites. During the last half-century, striking declines in death rates occurred for both races, with larger declines for Blacks;

• For suicide, the 11th-leading cause of death, Black rates consistently have been less than white rates.

Williams and Jackson maintain that racial differences in socioeconomic status, neighborhood residential conditions and medical care are important contributors to continuing racial differences in death rates from heart disease, cancer and homicide.

Imaging method helps determine success of brain cancer treatment

A special type of MRI scan can help doctors determine early in the course of brain cancer treatment if a patient's tumor will shrink, a new study shows.
(Image courtesy Comprehensive Cancer Center)

Researchers at the Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCC) developed the assessment, called a functional diffusion map. They used a magnetic resonance imaging scan that tracks the diffusion, or movement, of water through the brain and mapped changes over three weeks from the start of therapy. The tumor cells block the flow of water, so as those cells die, diffusion changes.
In the study of 20 people with malignant brain tumors researchers were able to predict with 100 percent accuracy whether the therapy would be effective—10 weeks before traditional methods would show a response.

Using MRI tumor diffusion values to accurately predict the treatment response early on could allow some patients to switch to a more beneficial therapy and avoid the side effects of a prolonged and ineffective treatment, says Brian Ross, professor of radiology and biological chemistry at the Medical School and a member of CCC.

Results of the study appeared the week of March 28 in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In addition to Ross, U-M study authors are Bradford Moffat, assistant professor of radiology; Thomas Chenevert, professor of radiology; Dr. Theodore Lawrence, the Isadore Lampe Professor and chair of radiation oncology; Charles Meyer, professor of radiology; Timothy D. Johnson, adjunct assistant professor and assistant research scientist in biostatistics; Dr. Qian Dong, a radiology fellow; Dr. Christina Tsien, lecturer in radiation oncology; Dr. Suresh Mukherji, associate professor of radiology; Dr. Douglas Quint, professor of radiology; Dr. Stephen Gebarski, professor of radiology; Dr. Patricia Robertson, associate professor of neurology and of pediatrics and communicable diseases; Dr. Larry Junck, professor of neurology; and Alnawaz Rehemtulla, associate professor of environmental health sciences, radiation oncology and radiology.

Funding for the study came from the National Cancer Institute and the Charles A. Dana Foundation.

Bungled insulin production may be culprit in diabetes

Like pieces of origami that get mangled during folding, some insulin molecules get produced in bungled forms inside the cells of the pancreas, researchers from U-M and the Pennsylvania State University report.

The resulting buildup of misfolded molecules inside the cell may be enough to stress its cleanup mechanisms—and may even contribute to the cell's death.

The discovery, published online by the Journal of Biological Chemistry, may help explain why people with all forms of diabetes eventually make less insulin in the pancreas. The destruction of pancreatic beta calls is the hallmark of both juvenile and late-stage adult diabetes.

Senior author Dr. Peter Arvan, the Brehm Professor and chief of the Metabolism, Endocrinology & Diabetes Division at the Medical School, says the occasional misfolding of the insulin precursor molecule doesn't faze the cell. But abundant production of misfolded forms, and the resulting effect on beta cells, may be an important factor in diabetes.

Lead author and research associate Dr. Ming Liu says the discovery is exciting, but more research is needed to better understand the effect.

The research focuses on proinsulin, the molecule that later gets chopped to make insulin. Previously, scientists have suspected—but have been unable to show—that some proinsulin is misfolded in normal, and diabetic, beta cells. The U-M and Penn State team was able to demonstrate the effect.

Arvan and his team are continuing their work with help from a gift by Bill and Delores Brehm, of McLean, Va. The Brehms gave $44 million to U-M in November to support research and facilities aimed at finding a cure for Type I or juvenile diabetes, which Dee Brehm has had for more than 50 years.

The research is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association.

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