Johns Hopkins Gazette: June 9, 1997

In Brief

Summer ozone levels a cause for concern

Summer is coming, and with it the possibility for days that exceed the allowable level for ozone," said John Schaefer, assistant professor of medicine and environmental health officer for the Johns Hopkins Institutions.

Ozone is a colorless gas that exists naturally in the atmosphere. Ground level ozone is formed by a chemical reaction between volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen in the presence of sunlight. According to Schaefer, sources of ground level ozone include auto, boat engine and lawnmower exhausts, industrial emissions and vapors released by some household products.

From May through September, when the weather is hot and sunny with little or no wind, ozone levels can become unhealthy.

High concentrations of ground level ozone can cause respiratory inflammation and distress, worsen asthma and increase susceptibility to lung infections.

"Ground level ozone has been shown to damage lung tissue," Schaefer said. "Its unhealthy effects can continue for days after exposure to high levels."

Ozone is a major component of urban smog. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated the Baltimore-Washington area as having particularly poor air quality, in part because of ground level ozone.

The Johns Hopkins Institutions are a member of "Endzone," Partners to End Ground Level Ozone, a coalition of business, government and health advocacy organizations united to educate the public about the dangers of ground level ozone and seek ways to reduce ozone levels by minimizing the activities that produce it. Endzone, which has published an action plan to educate the public about ozone and encourage steps to reduce the emissions that elevate ozone levels, advocates recognizing "Ozone Action Days" when ozone levels become a cause for concern.

On Ozone Action Days, to keep from raising ozone levels higher, Endzone recommends limiting your driving by using public transportation, not mowing the grass with a gas-powered mower, refueling autos only after dark, avoiding excess engine idling and postponing the use of household products, such as paints, cleaners and hair sprays, that release fumes or evaporate easily.

The Hopkins Endzone representative will have a booth at the June 11 Health Fair on the Homewood campus. If you want to know more about the Hopkins Ozone Action Program, call John Schaefer at 410-955-5918.

Thalidomide, once banned, resurfaces as boon

Thalidomide, a drug banned after it caused birth defects, has resurfaced as an effective treatment for the kinds of mouth ulcers suffered by many patients infected with HIV.

In a study published in the May 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Hopkins researchers said that of those patients who received a four-week course of 200 mg of thalidomide to treat their aphthous ulcers, 55 percent (16 of 29 patients) were healed completely. The ulcers, painful and often an impediment to eating, could contribute to malnutrition and wasting, said Albert Wu, associate professor of health policy and management in the School of Public Health. Wu co-authored the study.

Potassium helps lower blood pressure

Potassium supplements have been found to lower blood pressure. A Hopkins research team, publishing their results in the May 26 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that potassium lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressures, even in severe cases of hypertension. Researchers noted that potassium might also help those with normal blood pressure keep their blood pressure normal. Further, they speculated that a diet rich in potassium could have a beneficial effect, similar to the supplements.

"While this research evaluates potassium in the form of pills, or supplements, it is likely that similar benefits would occur from potassium-rich food," said Lawrence Appel, associate professor of medicine and a study author.

Appel said that potassium intake, when added to other steps to reduce high blood pressure, such as lowering salt and alcohol intake and exercising, could have a "widespread impact" on reducing hypertension. Hypertension is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, stroke and kidney disease.

An estimated 40 million Americans have high blood pressure. African Americans over the age of 50 are at particularly high risk.

Face-to-face surveying found more accurate

A Johns Hopkins study published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Public Health concluded that getting more accurate public health assessments for inner-city African Americans, at high risk for heart disease, diabetes and other diseases, requires research teams to go onto city streets to survey face-to-face rather than use the telephone.

"The street intercept survey method has been used in studies of HIV, teen-age drug use and illegal drug sales, but this may be the first study of the method's effectiveness in assessing a larger at-risk community," said Kevin Miller, the study's lead author and an instructor in medicine. "The street study may be better, in part, because it's more personal than telephone or mail surveys. People may be more comfortable and less likely to break off a face-to-face interview with a researcher of the same ethnicity."

For the street survey study, African American interviewers, trained in survey techniques, talked with 942 adults who were encountered in the context of their everyday lives and asked questions about smoking, nutrition, literacy and nonhealth matters. Telephone interviewers contacted 928 households. Response and completion rates for the street survey were 80 percent and 98 percent, respectively, while the response and completion rates for the telephone survey were 61 percent and 86 percent, respectively.

Medicine town meeting scheduled for June 23

William R. Brody, Edward D. Miller, Ronald R. Peterson and John D. Stobo invite all faculty, staff and employees of the health system and School of Medicine to join them in Hurd Hall for the next Johns Hopkins Medicine Town Meeting from noon to 1 p.m. on June 23.

The meeting will be available to members of the Bayview campus community by closed circuit television in Carroll Auditorium.

Photodynamic therapy may stop vision loss

A new laser technique called photodynamic therapy may stop vision loss caused by the wet form of age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease attributed to abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina, and the resulting fluid leakage and scar tissue.

"Our preliminary success in treating over 100 patients in Phase I and Phase II trials is particularly exciting because there is no other treatment for most people with this form of age-related macular degeneration," said Hopkins researcher Neil Bressler. "An added advantage may be that it can be repeated if necessary over the course of several months, without injuring the retina."

According to Bressler, a current laser treatment, using a "hot" laser to destroy some blood vessels, may fail to stop regrowth and may even damage healthy parts of the retina.

The new photodynamic laser treatment, able to be done on an outpatient basis, starts with a drug called verteporfrin that is injected into a vein. The drug is picked up by lipoprotein molecules in the blood and taken to the rapidly growing abnormal blood vessels in the retina. Next, a red laser beam is directed into the eye. The laser activates the verteporfrin and produces a toxic form of oxygen that partially or completely stops the leakage of fluid from the abnormal blood vessels. The process, Bressler said, may confine the growth of the scar tissue and prevent further vision loss.

Bressler, an associate professor of ophthalmology at the School of Medicine, said that more than a million people in the U.S. and Canada have macular degeneration. About 200,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Following this preliminary study, the results of which were reported at a recent meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology in Florida, researchers in the U.S., Canada and Europe are recruiting 540 patients for a two-year study.

Other News

Library management system on the Horizon

An end to the renovation commotion at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library is on the horizon, as the upgrading procedures are scheduled for completion in August. A new method of centralized management is also on the horizon for Hopkins libraries, as Horizon system software from Ameritech Library Services is implemented at the majority of campuses.

The new library management system was chosen for its ability to integrate a variety of current library systems with a powerful Web interface.

"It is important that the libraries are leading the university in bringing its many academic divisions into a powerful cooperative working relationship through shared technology and coordinated services," said Jim Neal, Sheridan Director of the MSEL.

The Horizon software will replace a variety of different systems at MSEL and the libraries of the Peabody Conservatory, the School of Hygiene and Public Health, the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., and the university's four off-campus centers.

It will also be installed at the Hopkins campuses in Bologna, Italy, and Nanjing, the People's Republic of China. A plan will be developed to build an interface with the library at the Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Md. The implementation process will take about two years.

All the Hopkins libraries were involved in selecting the new system, which was developed as part of a partnership between Ameritech, Indiana University and the University of Chicago.

--Compiled by Randolph Fillmore

Go back to Previous Page

Go to Gazette Homepage