Johns Hopkins Gazette: August 21, 1995


ALS will benefit from sale 
of elite seats at No. 2,131

     Even as he overtakes Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken will be going to
bat for Johns Hopkins and victims of Lou Gehrig's disease.
The Baltimore Orioles are building special on-the-field seats at
Camden Yards for the Sept. 6 game when Ripken is expected to
break Gehrig's major league record of 2,130 consecutive games

     Tickets for the seats are being sold at $5,000 apiece;
Ripken and the Orioles will donate $1 million in proceeds to
Hopkins to establish a Ripken/Gehrig fund for research into
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

     ALS is the neuromuscular disease that forced Gehrig to end
his "Iron Man" streak and eventually killed the Yankee great. It
has been known ever since as "Lou Gehrig's disease."
The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions have the world's largest
research group studying ALS, its cause and possible treatments.
Johns Hopkins sees more than 200 new ALS patients each year and,
in the past nine years,  has been the site of eight clinical
trials for ALS treatments.


Street drug Ecstasy may 
result in lasting damage 

     The recreational drug Ecstasy, already suspected of causing
brain damage, may do lasting harm by causing key nerve cells in
the brain to grow back abnormally, according to results of animal

     The findings support earlier indications that the drug MDMA,
often called Ecstasy, may cause lasting damage to nerves that
produce serotonin, an important chemical messenger in the human
brain associated with mood and personality traits.

     The findings are published in the August issue of the
Journal of Neuroscience.

     "MDMA causes an abnormal regeneration, or rewiring, of the
nerve cells that release serotonin," said George Ricaurte, the
study's senior author and assistant professor of neurology. "The
results are further evidence that people using high doses of MDMA
may be putting themselves at significant risk for brain injury."

     In a 1994 study, Ricaurte led the first controlled human
study with MDMA. The results suggested MDMA users were vulnerable
to the same type of brain damage shown previously in animal
studies. But researchers did not know if the damaged serotonin
nerve cells eventually recovered.

     Results of the current study showed that the damaged cells
recovered abnormally in most of the monkeys and a few of the rats
12 to 18 months after they received the drug. The cells recovered 
in some areas, but in other areas the serotonin nerve fibers did
not grow back or overgrew.

     Researchers now are trying to determine why the nerve cells
grow back normally, abnormally or not at all, and whether the
damaged nerve tissue disrupts mood, memory and other functions
associated with serotonin. 


Test developed to help 
early Marfan diagnosis

     Researchers at the Children's Center have devised a method
that should allow the reliable diagnosis of Marfan syndrome at
the eight-cell stage of fetal development. Used in combination
with in vitro fertilization, carriers of this inherited disease
may now have the means to bear only unaffected, healthy children,
they say. 

     Traditionally, scientists waited 10 to 12 weeks after
conception to diagnose Marfan syndrome, said Hal Dietz, lead
investigator of the study, which appears in the August issue of
Nature Medicine. Because it can be severe, and pregnancy is
taxing to women with the disorder, quick findings are especially
important to carriers.

     Marfan syndrome, affecting nearly one in every 10,000
people, is characterized by skeletal deformity, dislocation of
the ocular lens of the eye, and expansion and ultimate rupture of
the aorta, often resulting in death.    


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