Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 13, 1996

In Brief
Medical News

Harvesting prostate cells may enhance treatment

A highly sensitive new technique for harvesting prostate cancer cells in blood may allow more rational use of anticancer drugs in advanced cases, say Johns Hopkins researchers who developed it.

The technique can detect a single prostate cancer cell among 6 million white cells in a sample of the patient's blood, said Alan Partin, associate professor of urology and senior author of the study. Partin presented the findings last week at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association in Orlando, Fla.

Scientists have harvested prostate cancer cells successfully in 12 patients so far, and a larger clinical trial will begin before summer, Partin said.

The ability to harvest these cells is important because men with advanced prostate cancer generally have had surgery or radiation therapy and lack a source of cells that can be used for monitoring response to therapy or for use in developing new gene-therapy vaccines for future treatment.

Semiconductor industry linked to miscarriage

Researchers at the School of Public Health recently published two reports of a study on fertility and pregnancy loss among workers in the semiconductor industry. The study indicates that women who worked with short chain ethylene glycol ethers, solvents used in the manufacturing process, had a one and a half- to three-fold increased risk of miscarriage, and some had increased subfertility. The results of the study, which were published in The American Journal of Epidemiology and Occupational Hygiene in April and May of this year, were made available to the Environmental Protection Agency and to the semiconductor industry in 1991.

The study examined approximately 1,150 pregnancies occurring over a nine-year period among women who worked for International Business Machines in "clean rooms," which is a controlled environment for microchip processing where air filters remove dust particles. IBM discontinued the use of short chain EGEs in all manufacturing processes shortly after the company was apprised of preliminary data from the study.

Other News

Hubble gives 'edge-on' view of Saturn's rings

Astronomers, taking advantage of a rare "edge-on" view, have used the Hubble Space Telescope to inquire into two major questions about Saturn's rings: when were they formed, and how long will they last?

Scientists don't know how the ring system formed, but one theory is that a sizable moon containing a large quantity of water orbited too close to the planet and was torn apart by gravitational tidal forces. The satellite's debris, including its water, would then have been dispersed around Saturn, evolving into the colorful ring system.

The findings were reported in the April 26 issue of the journal Science.

By analyzing the Hubble data, astronomers learned that the ring system is losing up to 3,000 kilograms (6,600 pounds) of frozen water per second. But even at this rate, the researchers estimate that the rings probably will survive at least another billion years before they are dehydrated into dried-out remnants. Because the erosion rate is relatively slow, the rings might have formed a billion or more years ago, said Doyle Hall, an associate research scientist in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. But astronomers can't be certain of that because they don't know what the erosion rate was in the past, he said.

Ever since the icy nature of Saturn's rings was discovered, astronomers have wanted to search for the hydroxyl molecules. They got their chance in August 1995, when Saturn's rings appeared edge-on from the Earth. Because the rings are so thin, the edge-on view makes them almost invisible from Earth, just as a sheet of paper would be invisible if viewed perfectly edge-on from a distance. Without the usual bright glare of reflected sunlight from the rings, astronomers were able to study the tenuous envelope of gas that surrounds the rings. The astronomers used the Hubble telescope's faint object spectrograph to observe the region directly above the rings, and detected the signature of hydroxyl molecules in ultraviolet light.

Astronomers won't soon have another chance to spy Saturn's rings edge-on; the orbital configuration that made the rings appear edge-on occurs roughly every 15 years. But the next two times it happens, Saturn will be nearly on the other side of the Sun and out of Earth's view.

Hopkins, Baltimore Co. establish partnership

A partnership between the School of Continuing Studies' Division of Education and Baltimore County Public Schools received a Maryland State Department of Education grant to establish Professional Development Schools at Edgemere Elementary School, Sparrows Point Middle School and Sparrows Point High School.

The PDS model, already in place at two Howard County schools, provides a framework for public schools and the university to work together to design systemic approaches to school improvement. It also provides an opportunity for Hopkins teaching interns to gain administrative, policy and teaching experience while working toward their master of arts in teaching degree.

"Immersion in a school community will allow interns to observe the impact of community pride and the changing nature of our society on schools," said Sparrows Point Middle School principal Linda Ciminesi. "These teacher interns can be a part of developing solutions to locally identified education needs."

Blue Jay men gain bid to NCAA lacrosse tourney

The men's lacrosse team earned a bid to the NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championships and with it a chance to salvage their disappointing 6-5 season. The women's team, which ended their Division III season with an 11-5 record, did not receive a tournament bid.

The Blue Jays were scheduled to play a first round match against Notre Dame (9-3) at noon on Sunday, May 12, at the Naval Academy. The winner of that game meets the No. 2 ranked University of Maryland (10-2) at 3 p.m. at Homewood Field on Sunday, May 19. Semifinal matches and the championship game will be played at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium on May 25 and May 27, respectively.

Tickets for the quarterfinal matches, scheduled for noon and 3 p.m. on May 19, are on sale at the Athletic Center on the Homewood campus for $10 for adults and $8 for students of participating schools and children aged 12 and under.

For further ticket information, or for a ticket application, call (410) 516-7490.

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