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2.5: Factor by which hospitals charge uninsured and "self-pay" patients more than patients with insurance. A recent study by Gerard F. Anderson of the Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed data collected from U.S. hospitals. Anderson found that in 2004, hospitals charged patients who paid for their own care — mostly people without health coverage and foreign visitors — two and a half times as much as they charged people who carried health insurance, and more than three times the amount allowed by Medicare.

Self-pay patients did not receive the discounted rates negotiated by insurance companies and Medicare. The differences were dramatic, especially when the comparison is to Medicare. For example, for every $100 in costs allowed by Medicare, the surveyed hospitals charged self- payers an average of $307. Were you a self-payer billed by a for-profit institution, your charge would be $410. At public hospitals, the tab would be $249.

This gap between the insured and the uninsured has more than doubled since the mid-1980s, says Anderson, a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management. He adds, "In the 1950s, the uninsured and poor were charged the lowest prices for medical service. Today they pay the highest prices."

Anderson found that the worst states to get sick in if you didn't have insurance were California, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The best? Idaho, Maryland, Montana, Vermont, and Wyoming. His study appeared in the May-June 2007 issue of Health Affairs. — Dale Keiger

Sometimes your 15 minutes of fame is a half-second shot replayed by your parents 1,800 times. Wait... wait... oh, there she is — did you see her? Bear with them. It's your graduation after all. They're proud and they want to share the moment. Johns Hopkins' Commencement Web page makes the sharing that much easier, with videos, photos, and DVDs of the ceremonies (available for purchase); audio and text versions of the speeches, including Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick's; and for the hardcore proud, archives of speakers dating back to 1974 and honorary degree recipients dating back to 1880. For the first time ever this year, the site provided a live Webcast, a boon for friends and family who couldn't make the ceremony. And this is the fourth year the university has set the day's highlights to music to create a Commencement video. It's all for you. So sit back, rewind, and feel the love. — Catherine Pierre

Up & Comer

Name: Andrei Gritsan
Age: 34

Position: Experimental particle physicist and assistant professor in the Krieger School's Department of Physics and Astronomy

Stats: BS '94 and MS '96 in physics from Novosibirsk State University, Siberia; PhD '00 in particle physics from the University of Colorado.

Awards: This spring, Gritsan won both the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development Award and a Sloan Research Fellowship.

Scouting report: Particle physicists believe that when the universe was created, there were equal amounts of matter and anti-matter. Now the known universe appears to be composed of just matter. "Andrei's studies," says Morris Swartz, vice chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, "have helped us understand the fundamental asymmetry between matter and anti-matter and presented new puzzles."

Research: Particle physicists use colliders to create high-energy impacts that produce "all kinds of particles that we can't see around us anymore because we don't have the energy," says Gritsan. "Re-creating those particles could answer questions of the past and future of our universe." He is collaborating with hundreds of other physicists to bring the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) into being on the border of France and Switzerland. The LHC will be the world's largest particle accelerator, with a circumference of 17 miles. Gritsan is designing detectors that will study the products of the particle collisions.

About Siberia: "I know some people who moved to Minnesota from Siberia, and they say it's much warmer in Siberia than in Minnesota."

Alternative career: Lawyer. In high school he thought he might like to practice logical thinking in the courtroom rather than in the lab. "I was very much against injustice in any form," he says.
— Cassandra Willyard, A&S '07 (MA)

Vital Signs

Unborn babies exposed to chemicals
According to a new study, babies are exposed to man-made chemicals before they even leave the womb. Researchers from the
Bloomberg School of Public Health, led by research associate Benjamin Apelberg, tested umbilical cord blood from nearly 300 newborns at the Johns Hopkins Hospital for polyfluoroalkyl compounds — chemicals found in non-stick coating, food packaging, stain protectors, and other common household items. At least 99 percent of the samples tested positive. The concentrations were lower than those found in U.S. adults and lower than those known to cause tumors and developmental problems in lab animals, but the health effects of exposure to low doses of polyfluoroalkyl compounds are not well known, the authors say. Their paper appeared online in the April 20 edition of Environmental Science & Technology.

A new test for prostate cancer
More than 25,000 men die each year from prostate cancer, making it the second deadliest form of cancer among men. Robert H. Getzenberg, a professor of urology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says the current screening process often mistakenly highlights non-cancerous conditions and occasionally misses real cancer cases. But Getzenberg and his colleagues may have found a better way. Instead of measuring prostate-specific antigen in the blood — the current screening method — they measured a new indicator they had identified, early prostate cancer antigen-2 (EPCA-2), in 330 Hopkins patients. EPCA-2 proved to be a more accurate measure of prostate cancer and enabled the detection of cancer that had spread beyond the prostate. Their results were published in the April issue of Urology. More clinical trials are under way, and, Getzenberg says, the new test could be on the market in less than two years. — CW


Chinese folk remedy leads to curing malaria in mice
Johns Hopkins researchers have cured malaria-infected mice by giving them a single injection of a medicine modeled after an ancient Chinese herbal fever remedy. The new drugs, called trioxanes, contain an oxygen-oxygen molecule that causes malaria parasites to self-destruct. Similar drugs have been around for some time, but they didn't last long in the body and were relatively ineffective by themselves. The newest generation, however, promises to be better than today's best malaria remedies and also potentially safer and more efficient, says Gary Posner, a professor of
chemistry at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the study's lead researcher. The paper appeared in the April 17 issue of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

Undergrads develop dissolvable strip vaccine
Rotavirus, the most common cause of childhood diarrhea, kills 600,000 children every year, mostly in developing countries. Two vaccines have been available since last year, but they are costly and must be kept cold, which can be a problem in some of the world's poorest countries. Last year, one of the vaccine manufacturers contacted Hai-Quan Mao, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering in the Whiting School, and asked him to transform the vaccine into a thin film that would dissolve quickly in the mouth, much like a breath-freshening strip. Mao turned the task over to his undergraduate biomedical engineering students. Seven students, led by seniors Christopher Yu and Rohan Agrawal, spent two semesters developing the prototype. The strip vaccine still needs to be refined, but the Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer office has already applied for a provisional patent. — CW


Course: The Summer IT Institute

Instructors: Jay Liebowitz, professor in the Carey Business School's Department of Information Technology, is program coordinator; various Johns Hopkins full- and part-time faculty will present.

Course description: Taking place at Hopkins' Montgomery County Campus June 25-29, the institute is offered to students from area high schools who have completed their freshman year. This is the first time the program is being offered. Hopkins faculty will give presentations in the morning, followed by afternoon labs.


Artificial Intelligence: Liebowitz discusses AI applications, and students will develop an expert system prototype as an advisory system to emulate human thinking.

Information Security: How secure are today's computer and network systems? David Vargas, president of Vargas Advanced Technologies Group and an instructor in information technology, discusses information security techniques.

Data Mining: How do you find hidden patterns in large masses of data? William Agresti, professor of information technology, discusses how organizations are using data mining to their advantage.

Knowledge Management and Social Networking: Liebowitz discusses knowledge-sharing techniques, with special emphasis on social networking analysis.

Bioinformatics: Patrick Cummings, senior program chair; Kristina Obom, associate program chair; and Bob Lessick, lecturer, all of the Krieger School's Bioinformatics and Biotechnology program, talk about drug discovery, human genomics, and scientific visualization.
— CP


There's lots of talk of how nanotechnology is revolutionizing science, but let's start with the basics, shall we? According to Peter Searson, a professor in the Whiting School's Department of Materials Science and Engineering and director of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology, the simplest definition of nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter at the nanometer length scale. (One nanometer is one-billionth of a meter — 1 x 10-9 meters.) This definition is very broad and can be refined in several ways by considering the definitions of matter, length scales, and manipulation.

Matter: The building blocks of nanotechnology are atoms, molecules, and macromolecules. Naturally occurring proteins and viruses are not usually considered nanomaterials, but proteins and viruses engineered in the lab are.

Length scales: Many consider the upper limit of the nano scale to be 100 nm in length. Others limit the definition of nanoscience and nanotechnology to materials or structures that exhibit novel properties related to size. For that, typically, the length scale has to be less than about 10 nm.

Manipulation: Matter manipulated at the nanoscale can be used to create structures or entities such as nanoparticles or nanofibers. Nanotechnology can assemble such components into larger systems, architectures, or devices that have properties derived from their nanoscale components.

Nanoparticle: A metallic, semiconductor, polymer, or organic particle less than 100 nm in diameter; nanoparticles are usually solid and spherical but may have other shapes, e.g., rod-shaped.

Nanoscience vs. nanotechnology: Nanoscience is the synthesis of nanomaterials and the characterization of their properties. Nanotechnology is the application of nanomaterials to the fabrication of new systems or devices. However, the terms are often considered synonymous.
— DK

Here and Abroad

Johns Hopkins' Center for Communication Programs and its Center for Global Health in May won a five-year award from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for Project SEARCH (Supporting Evaluation and Research to Combat HIV/AIDS). The award allows the team — composed of more than 75 people from the schools of Public Health, Medicine, and Nursing, plus JHPIEGO — to be one of only five teams to bid on future task orders. These orders could reach $200 million, according to USAID projections. Project SEARCH's goal is to carry out research and evaluation to improve coverage, quality, and effectiveness of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment programs worldwide.

... Cynda H. Rushton, associate professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, is an international co-director of the Nightingale Initiative for Global Health and is currently at work on the Nightingale Declaration Campaign ( By November 2008, the group would like to have collected 2 million signatures requesting the United Nations General Assembly to adopt resolutions naming 2010 as the International Year of the Nurse and 2011-2020 as the United Nations Decade for a Healthy World. The efforts are designed to raise awareness about the crucial connections between nurses and the health of people worldwide.

... A new effort to respond to human trafficking and the exploitation of children in Puerto Rico was launched in May by the Johns Hopkins Nitze School of Advanced International Studies' Protection Project, the Ricky Martin Foundation, and the University of Puerto Rico. The 18-month project aims to develop policy recommendations to combat human trafficking and to propose amendments to current laws that will protect potential victims and rehabilitate those who have been victimized.
— Maria Blackburn


The Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards fund original work by Hopkins undergrads. Here's a look at two recent PURA recipients:

Chih-Ping Mao, A&S '09, biology, "A Novel RNA Interference-Based DNA Vaccine for the Treatment of Cervical Cancer"
Mao worked to improve the potency of a DNA vaccine that a team, led by School of Medicine Professor T-C Wu, is developing to treat cervical cancer. Wu's team injects gold particles coated with DNA into dendritic cells, which play a role in the immune response to cancer. The particles activate those cells, which in turn teach the body's cancer-killing cells to attack the cervical cancer cells. The problem, says Mao, is that during this process, the dendritic cells could destroy some of the cancer-killing cells. Mao used a technique called RNA interference to reduce the production of death-inducing molecules. "Our results indicated we were able to generate about two to three times more tumor- fighting cells," he says.

Meredith Brinster, A&S '07, psychology, "Inference vs. Instruction: The Difference Between Indirect and Direct Word Learning in Pre-Schoolers"
To learn more about how children understand new words, Brinster designed a study to measure two word-learning strategies, direct instruction and inference. During direct-instruction trials, a child was shown an image of the novel object — a cotter pin, for example — on a computer screen and was told, "This is a dax." ("Dax" was one of six made-up words used for novel items in the experiment.) During inference trials, the novel object was pictured along with a familiar object, and the child was told to point at the dax. "The big result we found was that children, when they had to figure out the name of the novel word using inference, were better at remembering the inferred word later when we tested them," Brinster says.
— MB


The reserved campus parking spot alone is worth the price. But for just nine bucks an hour, users of Flexcar, Baltimore's first car-sharing service, get access to a spanking new 2007 hybrid, plus gas, insurance, maintenance, and the benefit of knowing that car sharing helps reduce emissions and eases traffic and parking problems.

Flexcar, a national company, opened its first Baltimore location at Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus in March with a fleet of two white Honda Civic Hybrids and two blue Toyota Priuses. The cars are parked around campus; drivers register with Flexcar and reserve a car online or by phone. The Flexcar card opens the door, and the ignition key is kept in the glovebox. At the end of a trip, the driver parks the car back in its spot.

It's simple — that is, if you can find a car. In the program's first month, 165 people registered, and the cars were used an average of 6.1 hours per day, which is higher than the national average, according to Davis Bookhart, Hopkins' manager of energy management and environmental stewardship. On one early-April morning, finding a car to show off wasn't so easy. The one in the Wyman Park lot was being used. So too were the ones at the Mattin Center and Homewood Field. At last a marshmallow-hued Civic was located near the tennis courts. The car was pristine. It had only 254 miles on it. It had satellite radio.

The best part? All a driver needed to do was hop in. No begging a roommate or neighbor or parent, no need to promise anyone that you'd have it back real soon.

Now, that's a bargain. — MB

Return to June 2007 Table of Contents

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