Johns Hopkins Gazette: August 4, 1997

In Brief

Phone number changed for transportation office

As of Monday, Aug. 4, telephone numbers for the Transportation Services Office will change as follows:

Transportation Office

Transportation Manager's Office

Shin Lin to take post as dean at UCal, Irvine

Shin Lin, who came to Hopkins in 1974, will leave the university at the end of September to become dean of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine.

Lin, a professor of biophysics, was chairman of the Thomas C. Jenkins Department of Biophysics from 1983 to 1996. He also served as associate dean for research and graduate studies from 1992 through 1996.

He officially assumes his new position on Oct. 1, but he will return to Hopkins in December and during the intersession to team teach and lecture in several courses.

Medical News

Scientist develops viable human stem cell line

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have developed the first human embryonic stem cell lines, cells that theoretically can form all the different cells and tissues of the body.

"We already have embryonic stem cell cultures from mice, hamsters, monkeys and chickens that can grow into all the specialized cell types that make up the animal," says John D. Gearhart, professor of gynecology and obstetrics and director of the research.

If the human cell lines prove to have the same capabilities, researchers may use them to create lab-grown replacements for tissue lost to disease or injury.

Gearhart announced the development of the cell lines at a recent meeting of the International Congress of Developmental Biology, where he spoke at a session on the ethical considerations of human cloning and stem cells.

"Based on results with animal studies, it seems likely that we will be able to alter the cells so that a patient's immune system will not recognize them as transplants and reject them," Gearhart said. "If so, we would have a universal cell donor-- cells that could be transplanted to any recipient with little chance of rejection by the immune system.

"We will not perform any experiments aimed at genetically engineering the human germline in my lab or anywhere at Hopkins-- it is not ethically acceptable," Gearhart said. "That's one of the reasons why we chose to present our studies in an ethics forum. We wanted to begin the process of establishing a set of guidelines for the ethical use of cells of this type."

Hemispherectomy allows more normal development

A long-term study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center has found that hemispherectomy, a surgical procedure in which half the brain is removed, does more than stop otherwise uncontrollable and often life-threatening seizures in children. For the vast majority of these children, hemispherectomy also reduces the burden of medication and allows more normal development.

"Parents of these children agonized about whether to allow this radical surgery. The data prove that their courageous decision was correct. Hemispherectomy does relieve the burden of seizures and often the burden of intellectual dysfunction, as well," says Eileen P.G. Vining, associate professor of neurology and pediatrics and lead author of the study.

The study appears in the August issue of Pediatrics.

With hemispherectomy, half of the brain is removed, but the deep structures--the thalamus, brain stem and basal ganglia--are left intact. The procedure is considered only for patients who have severe seizure disorders originating on one side of the brain and for those who do not improve with medication.

Patients who have undergone a hemispherectomy always have some paralysis on the side opposite the removed hemisphere. They usually are able to walk and run with only a slight limp and perhaps an ankle brace. Although they are able to move their elbow and shoulder on the paralyzed side, patients do not have normal function or sensation in the hand and fingers. The paralyzed hand becomes a "helper" hand and never completely recovers. In addition, the left or right eye is affected. However, all these children already had some paralysis prior to surgery due to their illness.

Insomnia in men increases their risk of depression

Young men who report difficulty sleeping are one and a half to two times as likely to experience major depression later in life, according to a new government-funded study by Johns Hopkins researchers.

"We've known that sleep disturbances are among the best biological markers for depression, but this is the first time we've shown that those disturbances can show up decades before the depression," said Dan Ford, associate professor of internal medicine and author of the study, which appears in this month's issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Ford says the new link could lead doctors to intervene earlier to reduce depression's effects.

"Not everyone who gets insomnia will eventually get depression," Ford says. "The next step is to try treating young patients who aren't depressed yet, but have a family history of depression and are having sleep disturbances."

Ford and his colleagues analyzed data from the Johns Hopkins Precursor Study, a long-term investigation of 1,053 male medical students at Johns Hopkins. The health of the former students, who were at Hopkins from 1948 to 1964, has been regularly and comprehensively monitored for decades.

Researchers compared men who reported insomnia or other sleeping difficulty in medical school with clinical depression or psychiatric distress later in life.

"Even after we compensated for confounding factors like family history of depression, coffee drinking or their year in medical school, we still came out with a very clear change in risk," Ford said.

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