Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 22, 1997

In Brief
Medical News

Broccoli sprouts rich in cancer protection Johns Hopkins scientists have found a new and highly concentrated source of sulforaphane, a compound they identified in 1992 that helps mobilize the body's natural cancer-fighting resources and reduces risk of developing cancer.

"Three-day-old broccoli sprouts consistently contain 20 to 50 times the amount of chemoprotective compounds found in mature broccoli heads, and may offer a simple, dietary means of chemically reducing cancer risk," said Paul Talalay, the Abel Distinguished Service Professor of Pharmacology.

Talalay's research team fed extracts of the sprouts to groups of 20 female rats for five days, and exposed them and a control group that had not received the extracts to a carcinogen, dimethylbenzanthracene. The rats that received the extracts developed fewer tumors, and those that did get tumors had smaller growths that took longer to develop.

In a paper published in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Talalay and his co-workers describe their successful efforts to build on their 1992 discovery of sulforaphane's chemoprotective properties. Work described in the study is the subject of issued and pending patents.

A systematic search for dietary sources of compounds that increase resistance to cancer-causing agents led the Hopkins group to focus on naturally occurring compounds in edible plants that mobilize Phase 2 detoxification enzymes. These enzymes neutralize highly reactive, dangerous forms of cancer-causing chemicals before they can damage DNA and promote cancer.

Sulforaphane "is a very potent promoter of Phase 2 enzymes," said Jed Fahey, plant physiologist and manager of the Brassica Chemoprotection Laboratory at Hopkins, and broccoli contains unusually high levels of glucoraphanin, the naturally occurring precursor of sulforaphane.

However, tests reported in the new study showed that glucoraphanin levels were highly variable in broccoli samples, and there was no way to tell which broccoli plants had the most without sophisticated chemical analysis.

"Even if that were possible, people would still have to eat unreasonably large quantities of broccoli to get any significant promotion of Phase 2 enzymes," Talalay said.

Clinical studies are currently under way to see if eating a few tablespoons of the sprouts daily can supply the same degree of chemoprotection as one to two pounds of broccoli eaten weekly. The sprouts look and taste something like alfalfa sprouts, according to Talalay.

"Scientists currently need to continue to develop new ways of detecting and treating cancer once it is established, but it also makes sense to focus more attention on efforts to prevent cancer from arising," he added.

Effects of space flight on blood vessels studied

Are astronauts at risk of developing coronary artery disease from spending time in space, or can their blood vessels adapt to the change in gravity? To find out, Johns Hopkins researchers are preparing a cargo of special cells to board the shuttle Atlantis for a 10-day trip including a stop at space station Mir. The shuttle is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Sept. 25.

The first-of-its-kind Hopkins experiment is one of several supported by the Space Tissue Loss Program, an ongoing effort by the Department of Space Biosciences at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Defense. Investigators are looking at changes that develop in various types of cells at zero gravity.

At Hopkins, the target is endothelial cells, the cells that line the inside of arteries and veins. Endothelial cells are responsible for making sure blood flows smoothly through the body without clotting. Healthy endothelial cells also suppress arteriosclerosis, known as hardening of the arteries.

These cells are continuously subjected to the "shear stress" generated by the force of blood flow across their surfaces. When these cells are healthy, they can sense shear stress and alter their function as necessary to continue serving their protective role.

Barbara J. Ballermann, associate professor of nephrology at Hopkins and principal investigator, says that microgravity could have a wide variety of effects on endothelial cells.

"We are very excited to participate in this research collaboration," Ballermann said. "Although it is not possible to predict our results, we hope to find out how endothelial cells respond to changes in their physical environment. Any favorable or detrimental effects of space flight on these cells could have implications for future prolonged excursions into space."

Study provides blueprint for children's services

Researchers at the School of Public Health have developed a "Maternal and Child Health Functions Framework" to help governmental and nongovernmental agencies decide what kinds of maternal and child health activities are best carried out by different levels of government.

Infants and children, unlike adults, have unique health needs for comprehensive, community-based programs--such as large-scale immunization campaigns or the distribution of free baby formula--and these are often best facilitated by government agencies. But because the nation's health care system has been undergoing dramatic changes for the past decade, the government's role in maternal and child health has been in transition. As a result, mothers, infants, children and adolescents have become increasingly vulnerable.

Building on the work of the Institute of Medicine's Future of Public Health and the U.S. Public Health Service's Ten Essential Public Health Services, the Hopkins researchers identified 10 essential maternal and child health functions and then detailed activities associated with each, at local, state and federal levels of government.

For example, under one key function, "Diagnosing and investigating health problems and hazards," the framework recommends that local agencies take on such things as maintaining surveillance of local health conditions, disseminating state and local reports to local policymakers, and supporting state and national survey teams. State agencies are advised to conduct statewide risk surveys and disseminate those findings. And federal agencies are asked to conduct national surveys on low-prevalence conditions and special populations, and provide technical assistance where needed.

Test may provide keys to puzzles of kidney disease

Why some patients with kidney diseases respond well to certain medications and others do not has continued to stump physicians. With no means to test the medications besides trial and error, finding the right treatment is often a frustrating experience for physicians and their patients.

Now, research at Johns Hopkins may help provide some answers to the puzzle.

By harvesting white blood cells from patients, placing the cells in tissue culture plates and exposing them to common steroid and immunosuppressant medications, scientists can predict in some cases what medications might work best for each patient.

An article on this research in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology recently was selected by the American College of Clinical Pharmacology as the most promising article of the past year. William A. Briggs, associate professor of nephrology, was principal investigator.

Briggs will be presented with the college's 1997 McKeen Cattell Memorial Award on September 18 in Phoenix, Ariz., at the association's 26th annual meeting. The award is named in memory of the late McKeen Cattell, first editor of the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and co-founder of the college. It is presented annually to an author publishing an outstanding research paper in the journal.

More investigation still needs to be done on this technique, says Briggs, because these types of tests do not necessarily predict how the drugs will respond inside the body. Patients who wish to volunteer for the studies can call 410-955-5268.

AIDS network launches early treatment study

Johns Hopkins AIDS researchers have launched a multicenter study to find out if early, aggressive treatment of HIV infection can reduce virus levels or even eliminate the virus. The study will also examine the effect of this treatment approach on the immune system during the first few months of infection. The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, could lead to improved treatments and more effective vaccines.

"We have very little information about the early stages of HIV infection," says Richard Chaisson, associate professor of medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins AIDS Service. Chaisson is a co-investigator for the project, which is led by Joseph B. Margolick, associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the School of Public Health.

"Most people who are HIV-positive don't even know it until they are tested for the virus years after becoming infected," Chaisson notes.

The study will measure how effectively combination drug therapy works during the early stages of infection with HIV. In combination therapy, newly developed anti-HIV drugs called protease inhibitors are combined with older drugs such as AZT and ddI, to give a double punch against the AIDS virus.

The researchers want to learn if early, aggressive combination therapy only reduces or actually eliminates HIV from the body. The researchers also hope to determine how long anti-HIV drugs need to be taken for maximum benefit. "We'd like to know whether we can reduce the damage caused by HIV infection if we start treatment early," Chaisson says.

Other News

Best Dressed Sale set for Sept. 25 through 28

In what has become an annual fashion rite, expensive designer dresses, chic contemporary fashions, classic accessories and enduring vintage clothing will be on the racks at the Johns Hopkins 1997 Best Dressed Sale and Boutique.

A 33-year tradition, the sale has a loyal following of savvy shoppers who come from near and far to put punch in their wardrobe without emptying their pocketbooks. For the clothes conscious, it is the fashion equivalent of the Louisiana Purchase.

The sale is set for Sept. 25, 26, 27 and 28 at the Evergreen Carriage House, 4545 N. Charles St., one block north of Cold Spring Lane. Hours for the sale are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25, and Friday, Sept. 26; from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 28. This year the Johns Hopkins Women's Board, which puts on the sale, is celebrating its 70th anniversary. To honor this milestone, a Sunday shopping day has been added, as well as surprise specials during the four-day event.

"Shoppers will find a wonderful selection of quality clothes at bargain prices," says Carolyn Meredith, who, along with Debbie Kurz, co-chairs this year's sale. "Brooks Brothers suits for your husband, Ungaro or Escada outfits for you and adorable barely worn clothes for your children will all be found at a fraction of their original prices."

The sale features furs, evening gowns, tuxedos, suits, sportcoats, ties, shoes, sweaters, dresses, maternity clothes and accessories such as scarves, belts, ties, jewelry and pocketbooks.

Thousands of people turn out each year for this fund-raising event. Last year, more than $137,000 was raised for The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Money goes to support the programs at the hospital, including the new Comprehensive Cancer Center. For more information or directions, call the Women's Board on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays at 410-955-9341.

Go back to Previous Page

Go to Gazette Homepage