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You may have heard this already, but Johns Hopkins University has a job opening. President William R. Brody retires as Hopkins' 13th president on December 31, and the university has begun the search for Prez Number 14. If you'd like to nominate a candidate, you can do so at the official presidential search Web site. Pamela P. Flaherty, SAIS '68 (MA), chair of the Hopkins board of trustees, states in a welcoming letter, "An opportunity like this comes but rarely." No disagreement here. The official position profile that defines the job says, "The university's chief executive officer . . . occupies a position of enormous import and influence, both nationally and internationally." No argument there, either. If you're interested in the job, prepare to be challenged. The section of the profile devoted to what Hopkins is looking for runs to almost 1,500 words and notes that the board of trustees "seeks an individual who will be proud of the accomplishments of prior presidents, yet willing to set an aggressive and ambitious new agenda for Johns Hopkins' future." The list of "primary responsibilities" numbers 19, including formulation of a strategic plan to place the institution and all of its schools among the top 10 in the world. Sounds like the hours are long. But we hear the pay's good, and you do get on-campus housing.
— Dale Keiger

Up & Comer

Name: Hunter C. Champion
Age: 37

Position: Director of the Bernard Laboratory and assistant professor of medicine, Division of Cardiology, School of Medicine

Stats: BS '93 in biology, Emory University; PhD '99 in cardiovascular pharmacology and MD '99, both Tulane University

Scouting report: "[Champion] is an extraordinarily bright, creative, research-committed young faculty member," says Myron Weisfeldt, chair of the Department of Medicine. "Some of his work holds great promise for improving human health."

Research: Champion has published approximately 190 papers. His current research examines the intricate relationship between heart and lungs. Specifically, he aims to understand how disease in one organ affects the other and uncover ways to treat cardiopulmonary diseases. When the tiny arteries surrounding the lungs are partially blocked, for example, the heart's right chamber must struggle to pump blood. Such strain can often lead to heart failure. Champion and his colleagues found that certain drugs can help loosen the vessels. "Our research is one of the main reasons why drugs like Viagra are being used to treat hypertension," he says.

Mentor: David A. Kass, Division of Cardiology. "He has a long-standing history of being a world leader and expert in heart failure," Champion says, and "a gift for clinical and basic study design."

In his office: The customary books, journals, papers, and coffee mugs, plus a host of taxidermic curiosities. Aptly named, Champion is an avid sportsman, so his office houses mounted mallards, trophy fish, and a wild boar's head.
— Cassandra Willyard, A&S '07 (MA)


Vision proteins sense changes in temperature, too
Fruit flies sense small changes in external temperature by using many of the same proteins that function in their vision, according to Johns Hopkins professor of
biological chemistry Craig Montell. A study led by Montell and published in July by Nature Neuroscience found that a one-degree change in temperature opened protein channels, known as TRP channels, that are also important in detection of light. This multi-step process of opening channels eventually triggered a protein called TRPA1, and the larvae responded by moving to an area of a test plate with a more comfortable temperature. Scientists believe a similar process might permit mammals to sense subtle changes in internal body temperature.

Toddlers "chunk" data
Adults remember long strings of numbers, like Social Security or credit card numbers, by breaking them into smaller chunks. Scientists in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences have discovered that children as young as 14 months use the same technique. Lisa Feigenson and Justin Halberda, assistant professors of psychological and brain sciences, found that untrained, pre-verbal toddlers could remember more objects if those objects were presented in groups — say, six balls arranged in three groups of two. The results indicated that "chunking" data is not a learned activity but somehow an innate aspect of the human mind. The study appeared in the July 14 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
— DK

Bottom Line

11: Number of papers from the first MESSENGER flyby of Mercury published in a special section of the July 4 issue of Science. This was the largest number of papers to appear in the journal from a single space mission in the last 10 years, save for the even dozen published about each of the two Mars rover missions in 2004. The MESSENGER spacecraft, built and operated by the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), flew near the innermost planet of the solar system in January. It collected the first close-range measurements of Mercury since Mariner 10 whipped by in 1975. MESSENGER's data reveal that Mercury is shrinking as its core cools. APL researchers were coauthors on 10 of the 11 articles; Brian Anderson and Scott Murchie were lead authors on papers that suggest, respectively, that the planet has an active dipolar magnetic field, like Earth, and that the smooth plains of its Caloris Basin are the result of volcanism. MESSENGER will fly by Mercury twice more before settling into orbit around the planet in 2011.
— CW


Johns Hopkins has its name on a new piece of real estate, though it might not be possible to build on it for a while. An asteroid in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter officially has been dubbed "21619 Johnshopkins" by the International Astronomical Union, to honor the founder of the university and hospital. (Good to see they remembered the "s." The illustration at right plots the asteroid's orbit.)

Photo courtesy Ted Bowell, Lowell Observatory The name change (from 1999 JN136) was proposed by the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, which discovered the asteroid in 1999. The announcement came in July at the IAU's 2008 Asteroids, Comets, Meteors meeting, hosted in Baltimore by the Applied Physics Laboratory. Ted Bowell, who leads the Lowell team that discovered the asteroid, said they chose the name because they like to honor something from the place where the annual meeting is held.

Think of the asteroid as the sports car of Johns Hopkins-named natural objects. It's smaller (only two to four miles across) and it travels much faster than the Johns Hopkins Glacier at Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, which moves a measly 3,000 feet per year. Asteroid Johnshopkins tops out at a swift 47,000 mph. Unfortunately, its distance and size make it difficult to see with even the most powerful ground telescopes.

Scientists know few specifics about it, but Bowell guesses that the asteroid is the product of a collision between two bigger ones, that it's riddled with collision marks and craters, and that it's comfortably locked in the orbit of the asteroid belt. There is little chance that it will come careening toward campus in the near future and give the JHU PR department a very long week at work. The closest it will come to Earth will be on March 23, 2009, when its orbit brings it within 93 million miles — about the distance between Earth and the sun.
— Robert White


Course: Issues and Trends in Global Health

Instructor: Hae-Ra Han is an assistant professor in the School of Nursing's Department of Health Systems and Outcomes. As a community health researcher, she works to reduce health disparities through cancer control and cardiovascular health programs for ethnic minorities.

Course description: The class presents contemporary issues in global health with a focus on research in the industrialized world. Seminar topics include health care systems; measurement and indicators of health status; emerging health problems in different countries; internationally focused intervention studies; and bioethics in international health research. The course requires each student to serve as a discussion facilitator and give an in-depth presentation on an issue related to global health.

Topics covered:

Introduction: Globalization and health, international health issues

Family planning: Global perspectives (with a visit to the Bloomberg School of Public Health's Center for Communication Programs, hosted by Asian regional director Edson Whitney)

Women's health: HIV and violence against women

Population-based health promotion: Redefining health indicators

Control for infectious diseases

Mental health issues

Border health: Refugee health experience

Food and nutrition

Emerging health problems around the world: Focusing on Europe

Beyond a Western bioethics in health research
— CP

Here and Abroad

A Bloomberg School of Public Health study published in the July Pediatrics found that, in the developing world, giving infants a single oral dose of vitamin A within a few days of birth can reduce the risk of death by 15 percent. The study, led by Rolf D.W. Klemm, an assistant scientist at the school's Center for Human Nutrition, found that the babies' lives likely were saved by reducing the severity of potentially fatal infections.

...In July, the university announced a collaboration with Germany's Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the largest applied research organization in Europe. The new initiative will bring together School of Medicine and Whiting School of Engineering researchers with biomedical engineers at Fraunhofer. The first three projects under development: a computer-aided endoscopy tool to help diagnose gastrointestinal disease; a laparoscopic surgery tool to align pre-operative CT scans during surgery; and a system to track surgical tools during procedures.

...In June the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies hosted a first-of-its-kind career-orientation workshop for Iraqi refugees, most of whom had risked their lives working as translators, interpreters, project managers, and cultural advisers for the U.S. government, military, contractors, and NGOs. The event, organized by the nonprofit organizations Upwardly Global and the List Project and by the employment agency Manpower Inc., offered sessions in résumé writing, interviewing techniques, and networking skills, as well as breakfast with Washington, D.C.-area employers.

...This fall, when the Indian Space Research Organisation launches its lunar orbiter Chandrayaan-1, on board will be several international instruments. One was constructed by the Applied Physics Laboratory: The Mini-RF instrument will map the moon's poles using synthetic aperture radar with the goal of better understanding the lunar environment and the possibility of ice in permanently shadowed regions.
— CP


The Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards (PURA) program began in 1993 to encourage Johns Hopkins undergraduates to conduct research. This summer, 29 students received PURA grants of up to $3,000 each. Two projects of note:

Sara Robinson, Nurs '09, "Prevalence and Health Effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in African American and Afro-Caribbean Women"
Victims of domestic abuse often develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Because ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by domestic violence, Robinson planned to study abuse-associated PTSD in black women in Baltimore and the U.S. Virgin Islands. She'll compare PTSD rates and conduct in-depth interviews to explore cultural differences. Robinson's work is part of a larger project, the first domestic violence study conducted in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Joseph Heng, Engr '10, "Cochlear Implant-Mediated Perception of Musical Timbre"
People with cochlear implants find it difficult to distinguish one musical instrument from another. Heng, who has implants himself, speculates that the difficulty stems from differences in the way implantees and hearing individuals perceive instruments' timbres. Timbre has two audio components, envelope and spectra, and Heng developed musical chimeras composed of the envelope from one instrument combined with spectra from another. He has yet to complete the research, but so far Heng's hypothesis seems valid. When asked to identify the chimeras — a piano-flute hybrid, for example — hearing subjects tended to identify the spectra instrument, implantees the envelope instrument. Heng hopes his results will lead to better cochlear implants.
— CW

Vital Signs

Co-morbidity of diabetes and depression
Researchers mining data from a large multiethnic atherosclerosis study have found that people suffering from clinical depression face an increased risk of type-2 diabetes, and vice versa. Associate professor of medicine Sherita Hill Golden and colleagues in the
School of Medicine determined that diabetics in the study faced a 54 percent greater likelihood of depression than non-diabetics; people with depression were 42 percent more likely also to become diabetic. The findings were published in the June 18 Journal of the American Medical Association.

Doctors not reducing meds
A study led by Sande Okelo, an asthma specialist at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, polled 310 pediatricians nationwide and found that 40 percent said they would not reduce asthma medications in children who were doing well, with controlled or infrequent symptoms. Reduced dosages can lower side effects and cost, and Okelo says many parents will inadvisably taper their children's meds without supervision if a pediatrician fails to do so. Pediatrics published the research in its July issue. Americans keep getting bigger
If present trends continue, a stunning 86 percent of American adults could be overweight or obese by 2030, according to a new study out of the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Lead author Youfa Wang, assistant professor of international health and human nutrition, said as many as 96 percent of non-Hispanic black women and 91 percent of Mexican American men might be affected. Related health care spending could reach $956.9 billion, a figure Wang labeled a likely underestimate due to limitations of available data. The study appeared in the July online edition of Obesity.
— DK

Return to September 2008 Table of Contents

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