Research Roundup: Socioeconomic status affects some childhood cancer survival rates.

University of Minnesota researchers published several studies this past month.

Lew Blank

Recent studies published by University of Minnesota researchers examined childhood cancer rates, cholesterol in children and a new technology that increases battery life. 

Racial and socioeconomic status and childhood cancer survival rates.

University researchers investigated why African-American and Hispanic children experience lower survival rates for certain cancers.

“It has been known for some time that Black and Hispanic kids have lower survival rates for many types of cancer compared to non-Hispanic whites,” said Rebecca Kehm, a University researcher. “But the reasons for those disparities is not really understood.”

Kehm explored the extent to which childhood poverty levels fueled these differences in mortality rates.

The research found that differences in socioeconomic status are root causes for these racial disparities for some forms of childhood cancer, but not for others.

For non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and some forms of leukemia, socioeconomic status accounted for 28-73 percent of the racial disparity. However, it had no significant effect on some tumors and Hodgkins lymphoma.

This link between race and class demonstrated that physicians need to consider ethnicity and socioeconomic status when working with children with cancer, Kehm said.

“We need to have social factors on our radar when we’re treating children with cancer,” she said. “It’s important that physicians are aware of … the context that the child is living in.”

Cholesterol found in children

Heather Zierhut, a University genetics professor, also examined diseases in children. Her study looked into familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic form of high cholesterol, and why families sometimes fail to communicate information about the disease to other family members.

According to Zierhut’s survey of children with FH, 76 percent of their grandparents and 71 percent of their aunts and uncles were notified of their condition.

Since about half of the family members of children with FH are also at risk of having this disease, putting them at risk of heart disease and stroke, this lack of communication could turn lethal.

Zierhut delved into the reasons for why this information doesn’t always spread to family members. She found that the two primary reasons were fears that their family members wouldn’t understand the disease and a lack of information about the condition.

“People really had a lack of information [and] … resources to be able to communicate with their family members,” Zierhut said. “We need to do a better job educating and providing resources to these families.”

New technology that expands battery life

Another study released by University researchers involved a new technology that could greatly extend the battery lifetimes of phones and computers.

Jianping Wang, a University professor of electrical and computer engineering, helped develop a new style of topological insulators that are 18 times more efficient at computer processing and memory than standard materials.

The research team used a technique called sputtering to deposit a thin layer of material onto an insulator made of a material called bismuth selenide.

This process results in an energy transfer that erodes the insulator material, which Wang found to make the semiconductors more energy efficient.

This increase in efficiency would be noticeable if it were applied to someone’s phone, Wang said.

“You would know the difference. It will actually prolong the lifetime of your battery,” he said.