Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 12, 1997

In Brief

Research expenditure up to $798 million in 1996

Johns Hopkins University performed more than $798 million in science and medical research and development last year, up about 1.2 percent from the $788 million figure that led all American colleges and universities in 1995.

Research accounted for more than half of the university's total fiscal year 1996 budget of $1.5 billion. The spending supported everything from research on the genetic basis of disease to development of the first all-plastic battery, from the launch of a Hopkins-built probe toward a near-Earth asteroid to the study of the role of viral infection in cardiovascular illness.

Most of the funding for the research--$710 million--came to Hopkins from such federal agencies as the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Department of Defense. For the sixth straight year, the National Institutes of Health supported more research at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine than at any other medical school.

Though national rankings for fiscal 1996 are not yet available, Johns Hopkins has for many years ranked far ahead of all other U.S. universities in scientific research and development spending. The latest rankings, recently released by the NSF, cover fiscal 1995. Hopkins' science research spending that year, $788 million, was 77 percent ahead of the second-place University of Michigan's $443 million. The University of Wisconsin-Madison was third at $403 million.

"Hopkins research--whether it's in medicine, public health, technology or the basic sciences--makes an important contribution to society," university President William R. Brody said. "But it's vital to recognize that it also contributes almost immeasurably to the economic well-being of central Maryland."

The hundreds of millions of research dollars Hopkins brings into Maryland, most of it from outside sources, work their way through the state's economy, Brody said. The university's vendors benefit, as do local businesses patronized by university employees whose salaries are paid by research grants.

"The ability of our faculty and researchers to compete for and win federal research support creates, quite simply, many thousands of jobs that would not otherwise exist in the Baltimore-Washington area," Brody said.

The university's economic impact also includes the use of its discoveries to promote private enterprise, through both the licensing of new technology and the creation of new businesses. Hopkins researchers reported 224 inventions in calendar year 1996. They applied for 82 patents, and 15 were granted during the course of the year. The university concluded 56 licensing or option agreements with businesses during the year.

Science research accounts for the bulk of Hopkins' research effort, but not for all of it. Counting research in nonscientific fields, such as education and the humanities, and other nonscientific sponsored projects, the university spent a total of $869 million in fiscal 1996.

Medical News

Child abuse takes a toll later in life, study says

Abuse during childhood can bring on a variety of ailments in later life. A Hopkins Bayview research team came to this conclusion after a study of nearly 2,000 adult women of varied ages, races, educational backgrounds, marital status and family income revealed that the 22 percent who reported physical or sexual abuse before the age of 18, but who were not now suffering abuse, complained of many more physical ailments than never-abused women.

The ailments suffered by those abused only as children included back pain, headaches, pelvic and genital pain, vaginal discharge, fatigue, chest pain, breast pain, diarrhea and shortness of breath. This group was also more than four times as likely than the never-abused women to have histories of emotional or mental problems, experience lower self-esteem and higher anxiety and depression, and have problems with drugs and alcohol.

The symptoms reported by women abused only as children were comparable to those suffered by women currently abused but who were not abused as children. "Our study suggests that the wounds of childhood abuse may go unhealed," said research team leader Jeanne McCauley, who added that each year 1.4 million children in the U.S. suffer some kind of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect.

The study was published in the May 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Deceptive gun ads threaten public health

An advertisement for Colt semiautomatic pistols in the Ladies Home Journal tells women that "Self-protection is more than your right ... it's your responsibility."

This ad has, along with similar ads aimed at selling guns, been called deceptive by researchers from the School of Public Health's Center for Gun Policy and Research. Jon Vernick, lead author of a study appearing in the May 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association that accuses gun advertisers of deception and neglecting to warn consumers of the dangers of having a gun around, has petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to address gun ads.

"All too often gun ads promise that a gun in the home will protect you," Vernick said. "It's more likely that the gun will bring tragedy to the home. These ads send a dangerously inaccurate message to consumers."

Vernick cited research that revealed that a gun in the home made occupants three times more likely to be the victims of homicide and five times more likely to be a suicide statistic than occupants of gun-free homes. The JAMA article claims ads touting guns for protection do not, but should, warn consumers of the risks of having a gun around the home. Since research has also shown that guns are infrequently used to protect occupants from criminal attack, the ads are deceptively dangerous, researchers said.

"With 38,500 gun deaths in the U.S. each year, the FTC should assure consumers that messages in gun advertisements are accurate," Vernick said.

Coronary bypass not linked to depression

Contrary to what many doctors and patients have believed, depression coming on the heels of bypass surgery is probably not caused by the surgery.

A new study by researchers at JHMI and the Krieger Mind/Brain Institute, published in the May 3 issue of The Lancet, has concluded that bypass and other cardiac surgery patients experiencing depression were depressed before surgery as well. There was no correlation between depression and mental decline after surgery.

The results of this testing and other studies have led researchers to pose questions about depression, declining mental abilities and surgery.

"Research has shown that anywhere from 25 to 80 percent of cardiac surgery patients experience postoperative declines in their mental abilities--problems with memory, verbal skills or physical coordination," said Guy McKhann, director of the Mind/Brain Institute. "When they see this in their patients, doctors have typically blamed it on depression triggered by surgery. That's understandable because serious depression can affect mental abilities. But our study found that surgery and depression are not causally linked."

After further testing, researchers concluded that there was little relationship between changes in patients' scores on tests of mental ability and depression. While depression has not been linked to surgery, it is still unclear why so many cardiac surgery patients experience a mental decline.

Latent reservoirs of HIV worry researchers

A report in the May 8 issue of Nature said that HIV, latent in long-term reservoirs in immune system cells, possesses the genetic information to restart a full-blown HIV infection, even in patients for whom treatment has reduced the virus to undetectable levels. This ability poses serious concern for patients who may be considered treatment successes and taken off therapy.

"These HIV genes are a silent, or latent, form of infection that can become active when the immune system responds to ordinary infections by other microbes," said Robert Siliciano, associate professor of medicine at the School of Medicine and senior author of the report.

Researchers fear that even state-of-the-art HIV drugs may not eliminate these cells, which may exist in minute numbers in the immune system in T memory cells, the immune cells that leap into action when microbes first invade the body. Unlike other T cells, T memory cells do not quickly die off. When they contain latent HIV, researchers said that T memory cells can reactivate HIV, infect other T cells and begin to spread the infection again.

HIV levels in infants help explain childhood mortality

Using a test to measure levels of HIV in blood, a research team has found that HIV levels in newborns stay higher than in adults, which explains in part why young children die faster from HIV than adults do. According to a research team, whose findings were published in the May 8 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, testing HIV-infected infants early can determine whether infants became infected while in the womb or during birth. Infants infected in the womb have higher levels of HIV than those infected during birth and will progress faster to AIDS.

"Measuring viral RNA in the blood more accurately reflects the level of infection than the usual test that measures anti-HIV antibodies," said Thomas Quinn, professor of medicine, of molecular biology and immunology and of international health, and part of a research team who studied 106 HIV-infected infants for a year. "Because most antibodies newborns have are those they get from their mother in the womb, most doctors had to wait several months before the mother's anti-HIV antibodies in the baby disappeared and the baby begins making its own anti-HIV antibodies."

Because the RNA test allows doctors to determine the amount of virus much sooner than previous tests, appropriate treatment can begin sooner.

"This study show that if you treat babies early and keep their virus load below 70,000 viruses per milliliter, you have a good chance of preventing an early death," Quinn added.

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