Johns Hopkins Gazette: July 8, 1996

In Brief

Hopkins welcomes youth foundation to Baltimore

Johns Hopkins last week welcomed to Baltimore the International Youth Foundation, which moved its offices from Battle Creek, Mich., on June 17. The 6-year-old organization held a University Roundtable in Arellano Theater on the Homewood campus to introduce the community to its mission: improving the conditions and prospects of children and youth.

Working in partnership with national and regional foundations--including the Kellogg Foundation, headed by former Hopkins president William C. Richardson--IYF and its partners work to identify, strengthen and expand existing programs that have proven effective in meeting young people's needs.

These programs--which address global issues such as drug and alcohol use, teenage pregnancy, violence and school dropouts-- promote the confidence, character, competence and "connectedness" of young people to their family, peers and community.

Among the IYF officials participating in the roundtable were board members P„r Stenb„ck, secretary general of the Nordic Council of Ministers; Rita Sssmuth, president of the German Parliament and board vice chair; Inonge Mutumbaetwa Mbikusita-Lewanika, a member of the Zambian Parliament; and IYF president and CEO Rick Little.

Medical News

Death of Olympic skater linked to new risk factor

A newly discovered inherited risk factor for blood clots may have played an important role in fatally damaging the heart of Sergei Grinkov, the Olympic gold medalist figure skater from Russia who died last year at age 28, according to Johns Hopkins scientists.

The finding--reported by Pascal J. Goldschmidt and Paul F. Bray, associate professors of cardiology, in the June 29 issue of The Lancet--dramatically underscores the importance of the new risk factor in silent heart disease, particularly in younger people who appear healthy but who have relatives with premature coronary artery disease, the researchers said.

The Hopkins team recently tested the skater's DNA from a blood sample taken when he was admitted to the hospital after collapsing on the ice on Nov. 29. The tests revealed that Grinkov had the genetic risk factor, called PlA2, which may promote clots that block blood vessels in the heart that are narrowed by fatty deposits.

Grinkov, whose father at age 52 also died without warning of an apparent heart attack, appeared healthy and was training actively, but an autopsy revealed he had severe coronary artery disease and an enlarged heart and had suffered a mild heart attack about five hours before collapsing. The heart attack triggered ventricular fibrillation, or the chaotic heart rhythm that caused his death.

PlA2 occurs in about 20 percent of the population but can be detected in a simple blood test and may eventually be added to the list of major risk factors for heart disease, the nation's leading killer, Goldschmidt said.

New protein tricks body into attacking cornea

Johns Hopkins researchers have found a previously unknown protein in the eye that leads to "meltdown" of the cornea, the clear covering of the opening of the eye, which leads to painful blindness.

The Hopkins team found evidence that part of the protein, called CO-Ag, may resemble the surfaces of certain bacteria or viruses. In a disease called Mooren's ulcer, this similarity apparently fools the immune system into mistaking the protein for a germ. In the resulting attack on the protein, the cornea is destroyed.

"The finding should help us determine the cause of this disease, and why only certain groups of people get it," says John Gottsch, associate professor of ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Hopkins.

The paper was published in the April 1996 issue of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science. Gottsch was awarded the Troutman-Veronneau Prize, worth $10,000, following presentation of a paper describing the role of the immune system in Mooren's ulcer at the 1993 Pan-American Congress of Ophthalmology in Caracas, Venezuela. The research was supported in part by the Ginger Comprecht Research Fund. Gottsch was recently awarded a $250,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study Mooren's ulcer.

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