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5: The median number of years that morbidly obese patients wait for kidney transplants.

Patients of normal weight spend a median of three years on transplant waiting lists. A recent Johns Hopkins study, published last December in the online edition of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, found that if you are more than 100 pounds over your ideal weight, you are likely to wait two years longer.

And that's not the last of your problems. The longer the wait for a new kidney, the sicker you become. So the study, led by Hopkins transplant surgeon Dorry Segev, found that obese patients are 44 percent less likely to receive a kidney at all. Furthermore, suggests Segev, because the surgery will cost more and have a lesser likelihood of a successful outcome, obese patients may be turned down for transplant, not once but several times.

In a press release from Johns Hopkins Medicine, Segev noted that at Hopkins Hospital, the waiting times for obese patients are not significantly different from those of regular patients. Said Segev, "Patients understandably believe that being placed on the transplant waiting list is an implicit promise of fair, unbiased treatment under a transparent allocation scheme. Unfortunately, the system that has been established nationally may not be living up to that promise." —Dale Keiger


Surely during the coming three years of renovations to Gilman Hall, the Homewood campus will resound with anguished cries of "When will it ever end?" To answer that question, and to ameliorate the suffering a bit, the Krieger School has created the Web site "Diary of a Renovation: Transforming Gilman Hall." It offers "an insider's look" at what's going on behind the construction barriers, with stories updated monthly about the ongoing work, photographs, and architectural renderings. The site also features a sweet video, "The Heart of Gilman Hall," in which faculty share their thoughts about what the building means to the study of humanities at Johns Hopkins, and alumni share their memories of the place (and confess to just how much time they spent sleeping there).
—Catherine Pierre


Undergrads on the Trail to Discovery

Students in Introduction to Material Culture: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Family in Early America, a fall undergraduate seminar in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, researched, planned, and curated Welcome Little Stranger. The exhibition at Homewood Museum examines the customs surrounding pregnancy and childbirth at the turn of the 19th century. The students reviewed hundreds of pieces of correspondence to and from Charles Carroll Jr., who built Homewood, as well as newspapers, journals, paintings, and other objects from the Federal period. Each student researched topics such as maternity wear, baby-naming practices, behavior of pregnant women, and the family's sleeping arrangements during pregnancy.

Chelsea Gonzales, Engineering '11, examined contraception and unwanted pregnancy. People during this time feared miscarriage, as well as complications during pregnancy and labor. This was evident, Gonzales found, in letters Charles Carroll of Carrollton wrote to his son. As each of his daughter-in-law Harriet's seven pregnancies neared conclusion, the senior Carroll would write, hoping for a "safe and happy delivery." One letter said, "I hope to God she will not lose the infant ... miscarriages impair greatly the constitution."

Gillian Maguire, A&S '08, looked into midwives, the appearance of male midwives, and the emergence of doctors trained in a new field called the "obstetric arts." Maguire discovered that during delivery, only male medical professionals were licensed to use instruments such as forceps, and they took a more aggressive role in the birthing process than female midwives.

Welcome Little Stranger is on exhibit through March 30 at Homewood Museum.
—Maria Blackburn


Astronomers find ancient explosion
A team of scientists that includes graduate student John Graham, from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences'
Department of Physics and Astronomy, has discovered the oldest-known short gamma-ray burst. Short GRBs are massive cosmic explosions that emit tremendous energy in the form of X-rays and gamma rays. NASA's Swift satellite detected the burst last July. When Graham and colleagues turned the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii to the galaxy where the explosion took place, then analyzed the light spectrum, they found the GRB had occurred 7.4 billion years ago, twice as far back as the previous oldest-known burst and halfway back to the Big Bang. Graham presented the findings at the American Astronomical Society's 2008 winter meeting in January.

New idea links volcanic processes and erosion to explain land formations
Hopkins geologist Bruce Marsh, working with new findings from his most recent expedition to the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica, has proposed a novel explanation for the valleys' land formations that links his theory of magmatic processes with surface erosion. Marsh, a Krieger School professor of Earth and planetary sciences, says that as magma pushed up from deep inside the Earth, it fractured the crust into pieces, then temporarily sealed the fractures. This process welded the stress pattern into a sort of template for wind, snow, rain, and ice to sculpt the landscape through erosion, following the pattern of fractures preserved by the magma. The McMurdo Dry Valleys form a unique natural laboratory because the terrain has remained basically unchanged for 180 million years. Marsh delivered his findings to a recent meeting of the American Geological Society.

Vital Signs

Protein could halt allergic reactions
Activating a protein called Siglec-8 seems to stop certain human immune cells from initiating allergic reactions, Johns Hopkins researchers have found. A study by Bruce Bochner and colleagues at the
Johns Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Center discovered that when the protein was activated, cells called eosinophils, basophils, and mast cells released only half of the substances that trigger allergic reactions and asthma. The study appeared in the February edition of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Active teens become slimmer adults
Adolescents who participate in physical education five days a week are 28 percent less likely to become overweight as adults. Researchers from the Bloomberg School of Public Health, led by Robert Wm. Blum, professor of population and reproductive health, studied 3,345 teenagers in grades 8-12. The study's results appeared in the January issue of Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.

Nucleic acid turns off tumor gene
In the January 10 issue of Nature, a Hopkins team reported finding a noncoding RNA nucleic acid that turns off a tumor-suppressing gene. Most genes in human DNA have nearby strands of RNA, called "antisense RNA"; this is the first observation of antisense RNA interfering with a gene that normally suppresses the runaway cell growth of cancerous tumors. Co-author Andrew Feinberg, director of the Epigenetics Center at Johns Hopkins, said in a press release that the findings "bring us closer to solving two outstanding mysteries in biology, namely what all those noncoding RNAs do in cells, and how tumor-suppressor genes get turned off." —DK


The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft began orbiting Saturn in July 2004 and now is well into its four-year mission to collect data on the planet, its rings, and its moons. On board is an instrument package called MIMI, built and operated by the Applied Physics Laboratory. MIMI recently produced the best observations yet of Saturn's ring current, a trapped assortment of ions that, unlike the planet's famous rings, are not visible to the human eye, but visible to MIMI. Donald Mitchell, MIMI instrument scientist at APL, explains some of the terminology of this Saturnian phenomenon:

MIMI: Acronym for magnetospheric imaging instrument, the package of sensors on Cassini that mapped Saturn's ring current. One of the sensors, INCA (for "ion and neutral camera") takes a "snapshot" of the ring current about every five minutes, and those snapshots can be put together in a movie, of sorts, that shows what all those captured ions in the magnetic field are doing.

Ring current: A ring of electric current, produced by energetic ions trapped in a planet's magnetic field. Around Earth, ring currents are ephemeral, showing up only during disturbances in the solar wind. But around Saturn, the ring current is always present.

Saturnian plasma sheet: A transient population of charged particles — ions, protons, and electrons — trapped outside the ring current, mostly on the side of Saturn away from the sun. The solar wind pulls this plasma sheet out in a sort of long tail. The particles come from the solar wind and from water vapor ejected by Enceladus, one of Saturn's major moons.

Magnetosphere: The region of space dominated by a planet's magnetic field. The boundary between the solar wind and a planet's magnetic field is the magnetopause. —DK


The roof tiles are crafted from slate, rounded like teardrops, and measure 7 by 14 inches. For 116 years, they surfaced the dome of the original Johns Hopkins Hospital building, whose construction was overseen by John Shaw Billings. Over the years, the dome has become the institution's trademark. Now, in their second life, the tiles will help put a roof over the heads of an East Baltimore family.

After the original tiles were re-placed in 2005 as part of an exterior renovation of the dome, about 1,100 of them were saved and held in storage. Pamela Paulk, vice president of human resources for the Johns Hopkins Health System, suggested selling the tiles as framed keepsakes. The money raised would go to Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity to renovate a two-story home on N. Washington Street for a low-income family, and fund other projects in the hospital's East Baltimore community.

On December 1, the 975 tiles suitable for framing went on sale for $300 or $500 apiece, depending on the frame. In the first month, about 150 sold to faculty members, students, staff, and others who wanted to own a piece of Hopkins' past. Paulk is thrilled with the effort's success. "I know that the Hopkins family wants to help the community and that we have great pride in being part of this storied place," she says.

To purchase an original tile from the Billings dome, go to —MB


Course: Poetry Writing I

Instructor: Hollis Robbins, A&S '83, is a professor of humanities at the Peabody Conservatory who specializes in 19th-century British and American literature, African American literature, and poetry.

Course description: Poetry for musicians. The goal is to help students develop writing skills, expand their understanding of aesthetic and rhetorical principles, and increase their ability to critique and appreciate poetry. Robbins, a former Writing Seminars major, started the class by informing her students that they would focus on how poetry sounds. She taught various forms such as sonnets, Spenserian stanzas, and villanelles, then had students write their own poems in those forms. A male saxophonist wrote from the point of view of a 13-year-old South African girl confronting Oprah. An organist wrote poems to his mother, a police detective. "Musicians, in a really fundamental way, understand the relationship between art and structure," Robbins says. "I didn't expect such a high level of verbal deftness, the wordplay they gave me. Some of the poetry these students came up with was really amazing."

Selected readings:

From Poetry, an Introduction, edited by Michael Meyer (Bedford/St. Martins, 2007):
"Out, Out -" by Robert Frost
"God, A Poem" by James Fenton
"Ode on a Grecian Urn" by John Keats
"Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold
"The Dover Bitch" by Anthony Hecht


Read the class's poetry at

Here and Abroad

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a $10 million grant to a team led by Sheila West, a professor with the Dana Center for Preventive Ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins' Wilmer Eye Institute. Trachoma, the leading infectious cause of blindness in the world, affects poor countries almost exclusively. According to West, within those countries, it affects women and children, especially those in rural areas, disproportionately. The team — working in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and the Gambia — will target its research on improving treatment of the disease in resource-poor countries.

... The Peabody Institute announced in January that it had renewed its collaboration with the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM) in Singapore. Officials from Johns Hopkins University and the National University of Singapore signed the renewal agreement in November. The first agreement was signed in 2001, and YSTCM opened two years later. The school now has 24 full-time and 24 part-time faculty, an international student body, and a state-of-the-art conservatory building to call home. The new agreement aims to develop new programming, create joint performances between Peabody and YSTCM, and develop three-way collaborations with other international institutions.

...Clinical trials conducted in Uganda and Kenya showing that circumcision is an effective way to prevent the transmission of HIV made Time magazine's December 24 list of the top 10 medical breakthroughs of the year. The Uganda trials were conducted by Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers Maria Wawer and Ronald Gray. (See "Cutting the Risk" in our September issue.) Because of that work, the World Health Organization and UNAIDS now endorse circumcision as part of a prevention package for HIV-negative men.

Return to February 2008 Table of Contents

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