Johns Hopkins Gazette: December 4, 1995


Medical News

Scientists track 'molecular terrorists' found in lupus

     Like detectives tracking a terrorist, Hopkins scientists
have identified the cause of lupus flareups by figuring out its
method of destruction. Discovering this strategic factor in
apoptosis--cells' built-in "suicide" program--suggests a
treatment could be created around stopping this step in the
process, the scientists said. The insight may also shed light on
other disorders that involve programmed cell death, such as
arthritis and heart disease.

     Comparing the process to placing strategically a few
explosives to implode a building instead of scattering them
randomly, the scientists say the culprit in lupus flareups is an
enzyme necessary for normal cell death. But in lupus, the enzyme
sets up too many cells for destruction--a kind of fanatical
demolitions expert targeting buildings that should be left alone. 
     "Our next step is determining how to block the enzyme
responsible for the cell death involved in lupus flareups, which
can be triggered by sunlight and viral infections," said Antony
Rosen, the study's senior author and an assistant professor of
medicine. The findings are published in the December issue of the
Journal of Experimental Medicine.

New gene therapy for cystic fibrosis tested

     A human gene therapy trial for cystic fibrosis has been
established by Hopkins scientists in conjunction with Targeted
Genetics Corp., a Seattle-based biotechnology firm. The project
marks the first time an adeno-associated virus--a harmless virus
normally found in the body--will be used to ferry normal copies
of genes into the DNA of cells lining the nose and lungs.

     Cystic fibrosis--affecting nearly 30,000 adults and children
in the United States--is caused by defects in a gene called CFTR,
which hamper a protein from pumping salt and water across cells
to make thin, fluid mucous. Symptoms include severe lung disease,
sinus infections and pancreatic problems. Although antibiotics
and medicines that clear the lungs of abnormal mucus have
increased life expectancy, no cure yet exists.

     "We hope the AAV transport system, or vector, will have
long-lasting effects without causing harmful inflammation," said
Terence Flotte, assistant professor of pediatrics and
co-developer of the vector. "We don't know yet if the AAV vector
will allow therapeutic amounts of the protein to be produced, but
laboratory and animal studies indicate it is capable of doing
so," said William Guggino, director of the Hopkins Gene Therapy

Vaccinating mothers shown to benefit infants

     A recent study by researchers at the School of Public Health
concluded that vaccinating pregnant women against pneumococcal
infection offered a significant increase in protection for their
infants for up to five months. Not only was the level of
antibodies in these infants two to three times higher than in the
average adult, but at five months the babies--as well as their
mother's breast milk--still had above-average amounts of
antibodies. The study's principal investigator, associate
professor of international health Mark Steinhoff, believes the
findings, which were published in the Nov. 11 issue of Lancet,
may also have implications for passive protection against group B
strep, a common infection of infants in the United States.

India faces major AIDS burden by decade's end

     In the first study of its kind in India, researchers from
Hopkins and the National AIDS Research Institute in India have
found evidence there of one of the highest rates of HIV
transmission ever reported.

     The findings support the warning by the World Health
Organization that India may face the largest burden of HIV
infection of any country in the world by the end of this decade.
WHO currently estimates that India has more than 1.5 million
HIV-infected persons.

     The study was done because the researchers previously found
that, by 1993, one-fifth of patients at STD clinics in the city
of Pune were already infected with HIV.

     "Although India has many important public health problems,
it's particularly important to study the AIDS epidemic there,
especially because it might worsen other public health problems,
such as tuberculosis," said Robert Bollinger, assistant professor
of infectious diseases. "But we hope that our findings will help
researchers design programs for slowing the rate of infection in
India. This is especially important because there is no effective
vaccine available yet."

Other News

United Way campaign surpasses 1995 goal

     The university and hospital have reached 99.8 percent of
their combined goal of $800,700 in the 1995 Hopkins United Way
campaign. Campaign chairman Dean Don Giddens congratulates
university faculty and staff on exceeding their goal of $573,700,
reaching $583,228 in pledges as of Dec. 1. Of the 167 members of
the chairman's club--those pledging $1,000 or more--46 are new
members. Campaign contributions can be made throughout the year.

Former president to speak at commencement

     Former president George Bush has accepted the Homewood
senior class's invitation to be their commencement speaker at
ceremonies scheduled for the afternoon of May 22. Bush was
president from 1988 to 1992.

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