Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 24, 1997

In Brief

Cidofovir a new weapon against CMV retinitis

The drug cidofovir has been shown to stop the progression of cytome galovirus retinitis, an eye infection that is the major cause of vision loss and blindness among AIDS patients. While other widely used treatments for CMV retinitis have used catheters placed in a central vein, such as the jugular, cidofovir can be injected into the arm.

"The biggest advantage is that patients receive it only once a week to start and then once every other week," said Douglas Jabs, professor of ophthalmology and medicine at the School of Medicine.

Cidofovir has been found to be effective in large and small doses.

Thanks, GRIP, for the memory

Recent progress in the world of neurotransmitter research has found a new protein that helps brain nerve cells communicate. The protein, glutamate receptor interacting protein, or GRIP, may help neurotransmitter receptors cluster on brain cells directly across from the message-transmitting ends of other nerve cells.

Richard Huganir, professor of molecular biology and genetics at the School of Medicine, said that GRIP might play a role in learning and memory. "This is still speculative, but GRIP might help gather receptors at a frequently used connection between two nerves, ensuring that messages get through more quickly and more strongly at that connection," Huganir said.

In a paper in last week's issue of Nature, Huganir and colleagues suggest that GRIP might be instrumental in creating memories by adjusting the ability of nerve cells to communicate with each other. Huganir described GRIP as a "very large protein with a unit that is repeated seven times. The repeated unit is a PDZ domain, a new protein structure that's involved in many protein-protein interactions."

To further study GRIP's role in learning and memory, researchers want to develop a mouse that lacks the GRIP gene.

Town meeting in East Baltimore on April 1

William R. Brody, Edward D. Miller Jr., 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 on the East Baltimore campus for the next Johns Hopkins town meeting, April 1, from 5 to 6 p.m. The meeting can be seen at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Campus by closed-circuit television in the Carroll Auditorium.

Most colon cancers may have genetic pathway

As many as 90 percent of all colon cancers may have a genetic pathway. Reporting in the March 21 issue of Science, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center and University Hospital in Utrecht, the Netherlands, said that a "tumor expresser gene," APC, was found to be mutated in 85 percent of all colon cancers. APC mutation results in the overactivation of two other genes, B-catenin and Tcf, researchers said.

"These three genes are part of a pathway--an interconnected series of genes that communicate with each other through the production of proteins to regulate the growth and death of cells," said Kenneth Kinzler, associate professor of oncology at the School of Medicine. "APC is actually a negative control mechanism, or "off-switch," for B-catenin and Tcf," he added. "Without APC to regulate them, proteins produced by B-catenin and Tcf continue to signal cells to grow, but not to die. This alteration of the cell cycle eventually results in colon cancer."

Gene test counseling and consent found lacking

Patients who wanted to find out if they had a gene linked to colon cancer were found to have inadequate counseling when their gene tests were carried out in a non-research setting. Often they did not give their informed consent for the tests. These and other results from a nationwide study are reported in the March 20 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"This study is unique because it is one of the first to evaluate the use of a gene test in a commercial setting," said Francis Giardiello, associate professor of medicine at the School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

Giardiello pointed out that previous genetic testing was carried out in a research setting and conformed to research protocols. "The survey confirmed our concerns that there are inadequacies in the genetic testing process."

Hopkins researchers, who conducted telephone interviews with physicians and genetic counselors, found that of 177 patients tested, 83 percent had "valid indications" for testing and that only 19 percent received genetic counseling prior to the tests. Only 17 percent gave written informed consent to have the test. In 32 percent of the cases, physicians did not know how to interpret test results.

Other News

Decker Garden site of this year's Easter egg hunt

The JHU Annual Easter Egg Hunt will be held on Saturday, March 29, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Decker Garden on the Homewood campus. The hunt is free, open to the public and sponsored by the Johns Hopkins International Society. The Easter Bunny will be there to give each child a gift. Light refreshments will be served. For detail or directions call (410)955-3370.

Photography project gives children creative outlet

A program sponsored by the university's Office of Volunteer Services is in need of volunteer photographers and donated cameras to teach children photography at the Greenmount Recreation Center. Aimed at teaching photography skills to children in the Greenmount Avenue area, the program is modeled on "Shooting Back," a photography project in Washington, D.C., that gave disenfranchised children a creative outlet through teaching them photography.

"This program is interested in what disenfranchised children have to say about their lives," said project organizer Matthew D'Agostino, a graduate student in Sociology. "Rather than depend on the preconceptions of an outside photographer, it assumes the validity of their vision and seeks to give them a forum to express it."

The course will run for four months. At the end of the course, their work will be presented for their neighbors and community leaders in a gallery show.

To volunteer time or donate equipment, contact D'Agostino at (410) 516-4777 or (410) 366-2236.

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