Johns Hopkins Gazette: April 14, 1997

In Brief

Drug modification hints at fix for nerve degeneration

A group of drugs, modified by Hopkins researchers and Guilford Pharmaceuticals, Inc., has been found to promote nerve growth and may be useful for treating degenerative nerve diseases, like Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis, or brain injuries from stroke or head trauma.

Researchers previously found that in the body these drugs bind to a group of proteins called immunophilins. They also found that brain cells have 10 to 50 times more immunophilins than immune cells and that immunophilins in the brain are linked to nerve cell functions, including the ability of damaged nerve cells and their branches to regenerate.

"These proteins are frequently used by the cell for what we call transduction," explained Solomon Snyder, lead author of an article in the April issue of Nature Medicine. "They bind to something outside the cell and, as a result, cause changes inside the cell, making it less likely that an immune cell will proliferate, for example."

Through immunophilins, researchers recently modified immunosuppressive drugs. Immunophilins interact with a protein called calcineurin to suppress the immune system, necessary for preventing the body's rejection after transplants. After modification, newly attached chemical structures prevented the drugs from binding to calcineurin, thus preventing immune suppression. However, the modification did not affect the protein's ability to attach to immunophilins and aid in nerve cell regeneration functions.

"The new drugs were able to regenerate the protective myelin sheath surrounding the branch, which is critical to recovery of function," Snyder said.

School of Medicine, APL to do research with NASA

The School of Medicine and the Applied Physics Laboratory are working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and other scientific institutions linked through a consortium called the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. The consortium will study the medical risks and needs for people on long-term space flights.

One team of SOM and APL researchers will focus on bone demineralization during long periods of weightlessness. A second team will study the effects of varying amounts of radiation in space and look for ways to reduce or eliminate the effects without drugs.

Warmed surgery patients suffer fewer complications

Surgery patients normally experience hypothermia because of anesthesia, cool operating rooms, open body cavities, intravenous fluids and blood infusions. Now, researchers have found that keeping patients warm during surgery reduces post-operative cardiac complications by 55 percent.

Study results published in the April 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that when body temperature was kept near normal by warming intravenous fluids, and patients were surrounded with a blanket that fills with warm air during and after noncardiac surgery, study patients over the age of 60 with coronary disease risk factors suffered fewer complications than an unwarmed group with similar risk factors. Instances of irregular heartbeat, cardiac arrest or unstable angina were lower for the warmed group.

"An estimated 25 million Americans have risk factors for heart disease, and our findings show they will benefit from active warming during surgery," said Steven M. Frank, lead author and associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the School of Medicine.

Warmed surgery patients were also found to heal faster, suffer fewer infections and go home sooner.

New imaging helps prevent fruitless cancer surgery

For cancer patients whose cancer has spread to the point where surgery would be fruitless, modifications to two kinds of imaging, single photon emission computed tomography and positron emission tomography, have been shown useful in determining whether radiation or chemotherapy would be a patient's best treatment.

Henry Wagner, professor at the School of Hygiene and Public Health, and director of nuclear medicine and radiation health sciences, said that the use of these imaging techniques could save millions of dollars each year by avoiding fruitless surgery and would benefit patients by directing them to "more appropriate forms of care," such as radiation or chemotherapy.

Telescope watches comet Hale-Bopp

Saturday's launch of a rocket carrying a Hopkins telescope and spectrograph went off without a hitch, as scientists used the instruments to gather information about comet Hale-Bopp.

Trustees chairman Michael Bloomberg was among those who watched the rocket being launched at about 8:45 p.m. (MST) from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Astronomers, observing ultraviolet light from Hale-Bopp, recorded valuable information about the comet for about six minutes, before the rocket descended back into the atmosphere.

The project, headed by astrophysicist Paul Feldman, is aimed at learning more about the makeup of comets and the early solar system.

Observatory extends hours for viewing comet

People who want to get a close look at the comet can visit the observatory on the roof of the physics and astronomy building on the Homewood campus. Hopkins graduate student Julie Anne Watko, observatory operator, will be on hand to answer questions.

The observatory will be open on Monday, Thursday and Friday nights for the rest of April, weather permitting. Open houses this week and next week will begin at 8 p.m.; starting on April 21, the events will begin at 8:30 p.m.

Monday and Thursday events will end around 10:30 p.m., and Friday open houses will continue until midnight. Mondays and Thursdays are for viewing comet Hale-Bopp only. On Fridays, other objects, including Mars, will be viewed after 10:30 p.m.

Call (410)516-6525 for the observatory schedule and daily updates. Or check the following Internet address: telescope.html).

The observatory is operated by the Maryland Space Grant Consortium, a network of universities and institutions, led by Johns Hopkins, which promotes space sciences.

Don't wait until May 1 to begin 10-digit dialing

Remember, as of May 1 you will have to dial 10 numbers to make a local phone call. But you don't have to wait until May 1 to start. Bell Atlantic recommends you start dialing 10 numbers today.

If you have local telephone numbers programmed into your telephone, your computer modem to call your local on-line server, or programmed into your fax machine, they'll all have to be reprogrammed. So, reprogram today, don't wait for May 1.

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