Olivia Johnson


Fear of vaccines led to measles outbreak among Somalis, health officials say

State health officials say a misplaced fear of vaccinations’ link to autism caused a measles outbreak in Minneapolis’ Somali community. Autism is more prevalent among Somalis than other ethnic groups, but local leaders say the outbreak — which had infected 34 as of Monday — is changing people’s minds about vaccination. Kris Ehresmann, Minnesota Department of Health’s director of infectious diseases, said the outbreak prompted MDH to work with childcare centers, schools and communities where the virus could have a higher transmission rate. MDH designated 40 staff members to focus specifically on preventing the infection from spreading more, she said.

UMN graduate directors call into question benefit of costly student fees

Many graduate program directors challenged the ethics and transparency of graduate student fees at the University of Minnesota in an April 20 email sent to University officials. The 36 directors signed an email addressed to Provost Karen Hanson and Dean of Graduate Education Scott Lanyon requesting to meet and discuss increasing international graduate fees, whether students are benefitting from the fees and ways to relieve students’ financial burdens. Lanyon said in a statement his office has been in touch with the directors who sent the letter. “We are in the process of gathering information on the topic, and we plan to call a meeting with the directors to discuss this issue further and our options in addressing students' concerns,” the statement said.

Cases of syphilis, gonorrhea in Minnesota rose significantly in 2016

Sexually transmitted diseases in Minnesota rose again last year, with large increases in syphilis and gonorrhea. The 2016 Minnesota Department of Health’s annual report found that syphilis cases rose by 30 percent, gonorrhea 25 percent and chlamydia cases increased by seven percent. Health professionals say the increase, part of a 4-year trend, is the result of a decline in condom use and a lack of education. “It’s not a huge surprise,” said Krissie Guerard, MDH's STI/HIV and TB section manager. At the University of Minnesota, 52.5 percent of students used a condom the last time they had vaginal intercourse, according to a 2015 Boynton Health survey. Syphilis infections rose by 58 percent in greater Minnesota.

Using lasers, UMN surgeon zaps cancerous brain tumors

Using robot-controlled lasers to fry cancerous tumors inside the brain has become a focus for University of Minnesota surgeons. One surgery — called laser ablation — was first performed last month at the University with the help of a robotic arm.

Minnesota is least stressed state — well, kind of

With low divorce rates and good health, Minnesota was labeled the least-stressed state in the U.S. A ranking released this month by Wallethub ranked the 50 states and the District of Columbia by looking at 33 indicators of stress. The rankings factored work, money, family and health and safety-related stressors. Bonnie Klimes-Dougan, a University of Minnesota psychology professor, said while Wallethub’s methodology isn’t inaccurate, it’s incomplete. Klimes-Dougan said stress is typically measured by asking a person their level of stress, which can be subjective, or looking at how their brains respond to threatening stimuli.

UMN research reprograms immune system to fight cancer

University of Minnesota researcher Perry Hackett, calls his breakthrough in using DNA to fight cancer “one of the grandest Minnesota fishing stories ever.” Hackett, a professor of cell biology and genetics at the University, was given the Impact Award last month for inventing the Sleeping Beauty Transposon system — a basis for many cancer-fighting immunotherapies. Though Hackett’s scientific journey began nearly 40 years ago when he was tasked with genetically engineering larger fish, his more recent work can reprogram a person’s immune system to fight cancer by introducing a gene into a cell that will recognize foreign cells in the body. “Your immune system has memory, and it can target specific things that are bad,” he said.

UMN student designs first and only birthing home in Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone — a country whose population is similar to Minnesota — one in 17 women die during childbirth each year. To reduce that number, a master’s student at the University of Minnesota is designing a birth waiting home for the village of Tikonko in collaboration with the Rural Health Care Initiative. The home, located near a hospital, will provide a place for mothers to wait to give birth and will offer prenatal care. Sierra Leone has the third-highest infant mortality rate in the world, the result of a fragile health care system and lack of running water or electricity in many villages. Gauri Kelkar, a sustainable design student, is working on the birth waiting home as her final project to complete her degree.