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Vital Signs

Plastic may explain side effects
A chemical often used in the manufacture of plastic intravenous (IV) bags, catheters, and other medical devices can impair heart function in rats, according to new School of Medicine research. The researchers, led by Artin A. Shoukas, professor of
biomedical engineering, believe this may explain common side effects — swelling, fatigue, memory loss — in human patients after medical procedures like cardiac bypass surgery or dialysis. The chemical, cyclohexanone, leaches from plastic in the devices, and in rats it decreased how much blood their hearts pumped per heartbeat by 25 percent. The research appeared online May 1 in the American Journal of Physiology.

Put drink down, keep weight off
New research out of the Bloomberg School indicates that people who want to control their weight should pay more attention to what they drink. A study published in the April 1 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that liquid calorie intake, especially from sugar-sweetened beverages, had more effect on weight than solid calorie intake. Lead author on the study was Benjamin Caballero, professor of international health.

Risks for hypertensive black children
African American children with persistent elevated blood pressure are at higher risk than other hypertensive children of developing a dangerous thickening of the heart. Cozumel Pruette, a kidney specialist at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, led the research and noted that all hypertensive children are at risk of developing left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH). But out of 139 children with hypertension in the study, 60 percent of the African Americans had developed LVH, compared to only 37 percent of children from other races. The study was presented in May at the 2009 Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting.
— Dale Keiger

Up & Comer

Name: Gyanu Lamichhane
Age: 33

Position: Assistant professor at the School of Medicine's Center for Tuberculosis Research

Stats: BA '99 in chemistry from Wabash College; PhD '04 in cellular and molecular medicine from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Scouting report: "He's extremely motivated-it's a personal thing for him. He's seen the ravages of TB firsthand," says William R. Bishai, co-director of the Center for Tuberculosis Research. "He's also extremely self-critical, an excellent trait for a scientist to have. He can tell you the five things he needs to double-check in a study, when others can only find two."

Research: When Lamichhane was in high school in Chidwan, Nepal, he spent a month caring for his grandfather as he died from a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis. That experience inspired him to study genetics and find ways to help TB patients. People with compromised immune systems are susceptible to developing tuberculosis from one of several strains that are resistant to drug therapies. "What I want to do is develop a vaccine that helps them fight off the bug that is already in their systems," says Lamichhane, who himself carries the TB infection but does not suffer from the disease.

Mentors: Bishai and visiting professor Jacques Grosset are two of several senior researchers at the Center for Tuberculosis Research who have helped Lamichhane design experiments and hone his ideas.

Squeezing in books: "I don't really have time for hobbies, but I can find time to read," Lamichhane says. He likes reading about other scientific problems, such as making solar energy efficient. "And I do have a passion for economics and thinking on globalization. I get a lot out of the books of Richard Florida, Thomas Friedman, and Gregory Mankiw."
—Michael Anft

Here and Abroad

♦ In April, the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies' Esther Brimmer was confirmed as assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs. She'll be responsible for overseeing policy relating to the United States' relations with the United Nations, and leading a 600-person bureau with posts in New York, Geneva, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Montreal, and Nairobi. Brimmer has been deputy director and director of research at SAIS' Center for Transatlantic Relations since 2001.

♦ Sara Groves, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing, is spending much of the year in Uganda, where she is assisting the Makerere University Department of Nursing with needs assessments and strategic planning. She will also be teaching public health nursing and helping the department develop its curriculum. The trip is part of a multitiered program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and facilitated through the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health.

♦ Also from the School of Nursing, assistant professor Elizabeth Sloand took a group of students to Haiti this spring as part of their undergraduate public health clinical rotation. The students worked with the Haitian Health Foundation to offer health education, outreach, screening, and care to Haitian children and youths.

♦ Britt Ehrhardt, a master of health science student at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, will be traveling to Asia on a Luce scholarship. Awarded by the Henry Luce Foundation, the scholarships are meant to increase cross-cultural awareness and are given to young Americans with no prior experience in Asia. Ehrhardt, who hopes to go to Thailand or the Philippines, has worked on disease prevention and limited access to health care in the United States and Africa.
—Catherine Pierre


Manager of grounds Mark Selivan has been going native on the Homewood campus — with the trees, plants, and grasses under his care. About three years ago, Selivan began planting, as much as possible, native species on the quadrangles and decorative areas. "The goal is to use plants that are indigenous to this area," he says. "Native plants are adapted to this area, adapted to the climate, and used to the insects and pathogens that are in the area, so they have a natural defense."

That has meant, for example, phasing out species of bluegrass on the lawns in favor of fescues that can endure punishment and thrive in Baltimore's climate. "From the student body, [the grass] really takes a beating — ultimate Frisbee games, people wearing cleats, all sorts of things like that," he says.

Ask him what sort of non-native plant causes problems for his grounds crews and he doesn't hesitate to answer: "Azaleas. Some are local, some are not. They're a very finicky plant. They like sun but not too much sun. They like water but not a lot of water. There are a lot of insects that prey on them, like leaf miners and scale." Instead of azaleas he prefers viburnum, hypericum, some species of holly. He likes black-eyed Susans (pictured here) and Shasta daisies, too. "We've been making an effort on campus to put more perennials into the ground," Selivan says. "They're a burst of color. Institutions, as a whole, tend to stay away from color, for some reason. They like green. We're trying to put in four seasons of color."

Unfortunately, the magnolias that are so beautiful in the spring are not faring well. "They are under attack from a soil-borne pathogen," a member of the Phytophthora family, Selivan says. "We have been losing one or two every two to three years."


Course: Coca, Cocaine, Demons, and Wars

Instructor: Isaias Rojas-Perez, an instructor in the Krieger School's Department of Anthropology

Course description: This course takes the case of cocaine to consider in historical perspective the social, political, and cultural processes through which the Andean coca leaf, as key ingredient of cocaine, has been put at the center of an international conflict that entails questions of traditional cultures, indigenous rights, social movements, national sovereignty, counterinsurgency, and violence in the United States and Latin America.

Partial reading and viewing list:

The Hold Life Has: Coca and Cultural Identity in an Andean Community, by Catherine J. Allen

In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, by Philippe Bourgois

Drugs and Democracy in Latin America: The Impact of U.S. Policy, by Coletta A. Youngers and Eileen Rosin (eds.)

Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug, by Paul Gootenberg

History of Coca: Divine Plant of the Incas, by W. Golden Mortimer

The Coca Boom and Rural Social Change in Bolivia, by Harry Sanabria

Something Dangerous: Emergent and Changing Illicit Drug Use and Community Health, by Merrill Singer

Synthetic Panics: The Symbolic Politics of Designer Drugs, by Philip Jenkins

Traffic (film), directed by Steven Soderbergh

Cocalero (film), directed by Alejandro Landes

Maria Full of Grace (film), directed by Joshua Marston


Learning how cancer cells detach
Among the many questions that still puzzle scientists is how malignant cells detach from a tumor and travel to other parts of the body, thus spreading the cancer. Researchers at the
Whiting School believe they've invented a method that could permit scientists for the first time to observe the detachment process. Principal investigator Peter Searson, a professor of materials science, and two colleagues have created a device that allows scientists to attach a cell to a set of microscopic gold lines on a chip, much as the cell would attach to a tumor, then film what happens when they use a low-voltage pulse to detach the cell from one of the lines. By changing the chemical conditions on the chips and observing how that alters the detachment process, scientists have begun to understand what regulates detachment at the molecular level. The research appeared in the March issue of Nature Methods.

Solar storms in 3-D, no special glasses needed
The twin STEREO space observatories, built and operated by the Applied Physics Laboratory, have captured the first three-dimensional detailed images of coronal mass ejections on the sun. These powerful solar explosions throw out massive clouds of electrically charged plasma that can disrupt communications and power grids when they hit the Earth at speeds up to 1 million miles per hour. Specialists at APL have been tuning the spacecrafts' control software to more accurately point the imaging equipment and produce images that for the first time have enabled scientists to have a detailed look at the size and shape of the ejections. The information will help them determine how fast a solar storm is traveling, when it will reach Earth, and how it will affect the Earth's atmosphere.
— DK

Bottom Line

6: Faculty members from the Krieger School who were recently named 2009 Guggenheim Fellows.

Nearly 3,000 applicants competed for 180 grants awarded by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation "on the basis of stellar achievement and exceptional promise for continued accomplishment," in the words of the release announcing the fellowships. Winners represented 68 institutions, with Johns Hopkins garnering more grants than all but one. (Curses, Columbia University!) The grants, which average about $27,000, will fund work for the 2009-2010 academic year.

The Krieger School winners: Amanda Anderson, English, who will study the relation between liberal aesthetics and philosophical liberalism; Veena Das, Anthropology, for a project titled "Entangled Identities: Muslims and Hindus in Urban India"; Richard Halpern, English, who will examine the challenges for stage tragedy posed by the rise of a capitalist economy; Barbara Landau, Cognitive Science, for a book on the nature of spatial knowledge in people with Williams syndrome; Theodore Lewis, Near Eastern Studies, who is examining ancient Israelite religion; and Robert Moffitt, Economics, for a study titled "The Growth of Volatility in the U.S. Labor Market."

Return to June 2009 Table of Contents

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