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$100 million gift funds malaria institute
Nursing dean to step down
Undergrads make their mark in research
School of Public Health named for Bloomberg
Look who's speaking
Improv with the Buttered Niblets
Trio combines for no-hitter
Service workers strike averted
No Ivy envy here

$100 million gift funds malaria institute

It's a researcher's dream: $100 million to build lab space, buy the latest equipment, and lure the best and brightest to confront a major world killer. But the responsibility such a gift carries is daunting.

Researchers in the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Hopkins's Bloomberg School of Public Health are bearing that welcome burden these days, thanks to an anonymous gift--the largest gift for a single purpose in the university's history--to create the Hopkins Malaria Institute.

"The school and the department and its people have been challenged," says Nirbhay Kumar, a professor in MMI who knows firsthand the difficulties of devising an effective vaccine to combat the disease.

Malaria, caused by four species of the parasite Plasmodium, is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. It infects 300 to 500 million people each year, killing 1.5 to 3 million, many of them children under 5 and pregnant women. The disease affects almost 40 percent of the world's population in approximately 100 countries and takes its largest toll in sub-Saharan Africa.

Diane Griffin will oversee the Hopkins Malaria Institute. Diane Griffin, chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, notes that malaria most often infects the "poorest of the poor" and so less money is spent on research to develop vaccines and drugs to quell the disease. "Drug companies are unlikely to invest a lot of research dollars when you're talking about a market in the developing world," she says. Much of the money spent on malaria is for control measures such as mosquito eradication.

The Hopkins Malaria Institute's approach will be to work on the "basic science questions" that guide the search for a vaccine and new drugs to control malaria, Kumar says, and the size of the gift will allow for a larger, more concerted effort. "There are quite a few people working on malaria, especially on the vaccine project, but they're all scattered in different places. There is not a critical mass of people asking, talking, breathing the same air all the time."

The money from the gift, Griffin anticipates, will be used to add "desperately needed space" for labs, to bring in 10 to 12 researchers from a variety of fields to complement core researchers already at the school, and to invest in the newest technologies, from microarrays to computer-assisted imaging equipment.

Private money also brings a luxury not found in the chase for government funding: the chance to take risks. "If someone has a really innovative idea that may or may not pan out, it's very hard to get that funded" with public dollars, Griffin notes.

Even with the infusion of talent and equipment, the challenges are many, Kumar says. The mosquitoes that carry the disease are often resistant to insecticides, and many strains of the parasite are increasingly resistant to existing drugs. The parasite's genetic diversity makes vaccine development difficult, Kumar adds. "The parasite is pretty smart. It has learned ways to suppress immune response--the very thing you're trying to induce with a vaccine. ... And human beings are genetically quite diverse, so a vaccine may be efficacious in certain populations and not in a different population."

Advances in genomics may provide some crucial new material, Griffin says, citing the completed sequencing of the human genome and the soon-to-be-finished sequencing of the malaria and mosquito genomes. "You have to really understand all three components to understand the disease and make interventions."

She adds that Hopkins is well-positioned to be the site for the new institute. In addition to researchers at the Bloomberg School, researchers at the School of Medicine and in Homewood's chemistry department are making strides in malaria research. The Baltimore/Washington region is also a hub for such research, with the National Institutes of Health and Army and Navy programs.

"This is a resource for the whole field, not just for one group of investigators," Griffin says. "The idea is to energize the field and move it forward by putting more resources into it. It's a big responsibility." --Mary Mashburn

"It used to be that working on malaria was a very quick way to short-circuit a career. Where were you going to get your funding?"

--William H. Foege, professor at Emory University's school of public health, on the new Hopkins Malaria Institute's potential for drawing more scientists to malaria research, as reported in the Baltimore Sun, May 7, 2001

Nursing dean to step down

Sue Donaldson, who led the School of Nursing through a period of enormous growth, announced in May that she will step down as dean.

She plans to teach over the summer, then spend a year on sabbatical before returning to teach and do research on the School's faculty.

Donaldson (pictured at right) said her resignation was prompted by her "strong desire to return to research" and the awareness that she had achieved her original goals for the school.

During the dean's seven-year tenure, the school has won ranking as one of the top five graduate schools of nursing in the nation. Donaldson laid the groundwork for a thriving faculty research program and successfully established a doctoral program in nursing research.

Perhaps her most visible contribution came in 1998, with the opening of the Anne M. Pinkard Building. The attractive brick and glass building on North Wolfe Street solidified the school's presence, bringing together under one roof nursing enterprises that had previously been scattered across the medical campus.

Says Donaldson, "I am grateful to have had the privilege of serving as dean of the finest school of nursing in the world." --Sue De Pasquale

Undergrads make their mark in research

Some of the most cutting-edge research at Hopkins is being done by undergraduates. And for eight years the Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards have fostered and highlighted such work. During the 2000-2001 academic year, 43 students received grants of $2,500 to pursue their research. Some highlights:

Eric Krauland looked for ways to deliver DNA vaccines and other medicines deep into human lungs using aerosol sprays. He spent last summer developing tiny bio-degradable plastic particles using a chemical process that creates negative and positive charges, and showed that DNA molecules cling to the surface of these tiny spheres. Krauland hopes to find a viable way to use aerosol devices to spray the micro-spheres--and potentially life-saving drugs--deep into the human lung, where oxygen enters the bloodstream.

That concept, conceived by Krauland's faculty sponsor Justin Hanes, assistant professor of chemical engineering, could prove effective in treating patients with cancer or cystic fibrosis by releasing the drugs into the body over a prescribed time period. Krauland is seeking a patent and is submitting his work for publication.

Alan Braly '02 is testing the mechanical properties of tooth enamel to help explain how it is destroyed by stomach acid that enters the mouth via acid reflux, a common digestive disorder.

As part of a team headed by Timothy Weihs, Hopkins assistant professor of materials science engineering, Braly tested variations in the hardness, and stiffness, of enamel across the surface of a tooth. He used a nanoindenter, a computer-aided instrument with a diamond-tipped rod.

A better understanding of tooth surface mechanics could prompt new methods for protecting teeth from acid damage.

Alicia Simoni '02 volunteered at a Baltimore shelter to understand the dynamics of homeless motherhood.

An anthropology major, Simoni found that homeless women with children have a dual burden: They are often treated like children by care workers, yet are held up against idealized standards of motherhood and judged as "good" or "bad." "They couldn't possibly be a good mother, the assumptions go, if they and their children are homeless," says Simoni, who interviewed both homeless mothers and care workers.

In her research paper, Simoni writes about a "paradox of expectations." While homeless women are expected to be dependent on the shelter workers, they are also expected to be strong mothers and women. --Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson

School of Public Health named for Bloomberg

An April 23 announcement undoubtedly sent some staffers at Public Health scurrying to change reams of letterhead to reflect the venerable institution's new name: the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The new moniker honors Michael Bloomberg (Eng '64), who has given more than $100 million to Johns Hopkins University, including some $35 million to the School of Public Health.

"Since Johns Hopkins himself, nobody has had a greater impact on this university than Michael Bloomberg," said university president William R. Brody. Brody and Public Health dean Alfred Sommer praised the philanthropist for recognizing the importance of public health--a prevention-oriented field that too often is overlooked by potential donors.

Bloomberg (pictured at right), the founder and CEO of the worldwide news and financial information company Bloomberg LP, noted he had long thought "it made more sense to prevent disease than to cure it," adding, "It is not unrealistic to say that Hopkins saves millions and millions of lives with the programs that come out of [the] school."

Bloomberg has been a university trustee since 1987 and chairman of the board since 1996--a position that involved leadership of the Johns Hopkins Initiative, the four-year, $1.5 billion fund-raising campaign that ended last year.

The Bloomberg School, originally founded in 1916, was the world's first stand-alone school of public health. Today, it is the world's largest in terms of students, faculty, and research funding. --Emily Carlson, MA '01

Tuition on the rise

Tuition for full-time students at Homewood will increase 5.1 percent for the 2001-2002 academic year, from $24,930 to $26,210. Some $330 of that increase will cover operating costs of the new student arts center and a recreation center due to open this fall, administrators say.

Room and board for Homewood undergraduates will increase 3.9 percent, to $8,506, putting the total of tuition, room, and board for undergraduates living on campus at $34,716.

"This is the second and last year in which tuition increases for Homewood students will reflect the costs of the new student buildings," said Steven Knapp, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. "We are working to control costs and anticipate a significantly smaller increase next year."

Tuition increases for full-time students within other divisions also hover around the 5 percent mark. Exceptions: the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (3.6 percent) and the Peabody Conservatory (4.4 percent). Incoming medical students pay the same tuition during their entire four-year course of study; tuition for first-year medical students this fall will be $28,100.

Look who's speaking

Students across the university were set to receive their degrees on May 23 and 24. A rundown on the speakers follows.

University-wide Commencement: William R. Brody, Johns Hopkins University president

Krieger School of Arts & Sciences and Whiting School of Engineering undergraduate ceremonies: Al Hunt, a Wall Street Journal editor and panelist on CNN's "The Capital Gang"

School of Professional Studies in Business and Education: Mame Warren, historian and editor, Johns Hopkins University

Bloomberg School of Public Health: Joshua Lederberg, Nobel laureate and former president of Rockefeller University

School of Medicine: David Satcher, U.S. surgeon general

Nitze School of Advanced International Studies: His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet

Peabody Institute: Isaac Stern, world-renowned violinist

School of Nursing: Maryann F. Fralic, professor and director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, School of Nursing

Improv with the Buttered Niblets

Giles Clarke '01 runs on stage in Homewood's Arellano Theater, grabbing handfuls of candy from a bucket to throw into the audience. "Hey, how ya doing?" he yells. "I don't hear any noise!" and the audience--about 200 people, mostly Hopkins undergraduates--hoots and hollers back at him. A Buttered Niblets show has begun.

Next, Perry Price '03 comes out and notes that the Niblets is the only improvisational comedy group on campus; the troupe works by taking suggestions from the audience for different scenes and characters. For the first sketch, Price asks for an academic specialty. Students call out suggestions, until Price picks "entomology."

"Niblets" Giles Clarke '01 and Ruthie Aslan '03
Photo by Will Kirk
The first "game"--as the Buttered Niblets call their vignettes--is a job interview. Interviewer Loren Dunn '04 asks applicant Rjyan Kidwell '03 what the field of entomology is. Kidwell replies that it is the study of Entenmann's. Dunn asks how Kidwell got into the field, and he explains that it all started when he began stealing from the grocery store: "The Entenmann's are really close to the door--I'd just grab and go."

The sketch continues back and forth between Dunn and Kidwell, laughter from the audience throughout. After about five minutes Clarke signals the tech booth, and the stage lights go down. When they come back up, the audience is asked for a sentence and a nongeographic location to be worked into the next scene.

If the audience's response is any judge, the Buttered Niblets succeed at their comedy. Some of the humor is off-color, but this is college, after all.

An hour and seven more sketches later, the show is over. After the audience filters out, the seven Buttered Niblets stay a while to discuss what makes improv work. Says Clarke, the group's president, "It's not how funny you are. It's about working with other people." Each year the Niblets hold auditions for new members. Says Clarke, "We're not looking for great one-liners. We're not looking for people to steal the spotlight. We're looking for people to share the spotlight."

It takes hard work to be spontaneously funny. They practice twice a week--two hours on Wednesday and three on Sunday. The week before a show, they practice every day. The show is unscripted, so practice consists of giving themselves suggestions for games and then playing off each other. After each game, they critique what they came up with, just as they do after every show.

Started in 1995, the Buttered Niblets have become one of the most popular performance troupes on campus. But improv comedy, as it turns out, isn't just about entertaining an audience. The Niblets say they get a lot out of performing, too.

"If you can do this, you can do a lot of things," says Ruthie Aslan '03. "Life is an improv." --Barbara Kiviat '01


Photo by Jay Van Rensselaer Students threw showers of the celebratory stuff to fete Homewood's new Mattin Center, officially dedicated on April 20. The three-part complex, which spills out on to a courtyard, is the first Homewood facility built exclusively to support the arts.

Vice president and secretary emeritus Ross Jones, for whom one wing of the center is named, noted at the dedication that the center marks "a dramatic turning point in the life of the undergraduates on this campus." He added, "These buildings say to you students today, and to generations of students to come, that Johns Hopkins...recognizes the importance of encouraging you to create, to interpret, to perform, to lead, and to bring out all those wonderful human qualities that will enrich your lives, and that might have lain dormant if these handsome facilities were not available to you."

Trio combines for no-hitter

The no-hitter in baseball is rare enough. Rarer still is the no-hitter that's a product of more than one pitcher.

In April, three Hopkins pitchers combined to no-hit Franklin & Marshall in a 9-0 Blue Jay victory. Yani Rosenberg '01 started the game and pitched five strong innings, allowing just one base runner to reach second. He struck out eight and walked only one.

In the sixth inning, George Merrell '04 came on in relief and allowed only a single walk. Mark Jarashow '02 completed the no-hit effort, but not without a bit of drama. After striking out the first two batters in the final inning (in college baseball double-headers, the games last seven innings instead of nine), Jarashow walked two, then hit a third to load the bases. He escaped the jam by striking out the last batter.

The most recent previous Hopkins no-hitter had been on March 20, 1993, a 12-0 rout of Hamilton College. At press time, the Blue Jay baseball squad had a record of 23-9 and had clinched the Centennial Conference title and a berth in the NCAA tournament. --Dale Keiger

Service workers strike averted

It wasn't the eleventh hour--it was closer. Johns Hopkins Hospital reached a contract agreement with its service workers' union just seven minutes before they had planned to walk off the job for a three-day strike in April.

At press time, the three-year agreement with workers from the Service Employees International Union Local 1199E-DC-- which represents about 1,500 patients' aides and housekeeping, dietary, and maintenance employees--still needed to be ratified by the union's rank and file.

The tentative agreement includes provisions for salary increases, an immediate increase at the lowest wage rate and, by the end of the contract, a $10 per hour minimum wage for all current employees, according to a joint statement issued by hospital president Ronald R. Peterson and union district 1199-DC president Robert Moore. The package also offers pension improvements and an agreement to form a joint committee to look at additional enhancements to the pension plan. --DK

No Ivy envy here

Johns Hopkins is no longer a safe choice. For prospective freshmen, that is. The Wall Street Journal recently compiled a survey to determine what it called "the new safety schools"--schools to which students apply as fallbacks in case they're not accepted by Princeton or Stanford.

Says the Journal: "With competition for college more intense than ever... kids who only a few years ago had a fighting chance for the Ivies aren't even getting wait-listed at what used to be considered second-tier schools.

"A fallback for MIT, for example? Not Pomona or Johns Hopkins. Both schools now have average SATs above 1420 and admission rates only a touch more favorable than some of the Ivies."

The paper compiled the "Dow Jones Safety School Index." Its top category is "The New Ivies," schools "once considered backups to Ivy and other top schools, now selective enough to be in a league of their own." Eleven schools made this list, including Duke, Georgetown, NYU, Swarthmore, Williams, and Hopkins. --DK

Return to June 2001 Table of Contents

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