Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 27, 1995


Protein may be link to Huntington's disease

     Hopkins scientists have identified a potential direct
protein link in the chain reaction that causes Huntington's
disease. The link may provide a target for novel drugs to treat
the fatal disease. Huntington's associated protein-1 became known
by the company it keeps:  it's the first protein ever found that
chemically binds to huntingtin, the protein produced by the
Huntington's disease gene itself.

     "Finding [the HAP-1 protein] is like finding a gun at a
murder scene," said Chris Ross, an associate professor of
psychiatry and neuroscience. 

     Huntington's disease is an inherited disorder that causes
brain cells to degenerate. It affects 25,000 people in the United
States, and about 150,000 have the mutant gene that leads to the
disease. There is no known treatment for the disease, which
typically begins in middle age, and patients who develop the
disease die within 15 to 20 years.

Food allergies may cause children's stomach pains

     Food allergies not detected by standard tests might be the
cause of some forms of stomach-related problems in children. In
the November issue of Gastroenterology, researchers at the
Hopkins Children's Center suggest that if their theory proves
correct, physicians might be able to introduce new ways to
evaluate and treat kids for problems like severe nausea, pain,
vomiting and poor weight gain, which are currently treated with
medication to stop acid production. In some cases, surgery is
recommended to stop acid regurgitation.

     But Kevin Kelly, who directed the study when he was at
Hopkins, said acid reflux may not be the problem at all, and
treatment may be as simple as restricting certain foods. 

News from the American Heart Association meeting

     Scientists, led by cardiology fellow Raymond J. Kim, have
developed a rapid nuclear magnetic resonance imaging test that
can identify animal heart cells that have died after blood flow
stops and restarts. The finding may eventually speed up
non-invasive diagnosis and treatment of heart attacks in humans.

     Findings by cardiology fellow Wendy S. Post and her research
team suggest that as some people age, their risk for coronary
artery disease rises because a genetic change in their heart's
blood vessels makes the vessels unable to benefit from estrogen.
This study is the first to show that the deactivation of the
estrogen receptor gene occurs in cardiovascular tissue. 

     A study may have found the first inherited risk factor for
the development of blood clots that cause heart attacks--
especially in younger people. And one in five Americans may have
it. The risk factor is an abnormality in the shape of a hooklike
protein prong that blood-clotting platelets use to link up, "like
bending a slightly barbed wire into the shape of a fish hook,"
said fourth-year medical student Ethan Weiss, the study's lead
author. "Just as a deeply curved hook would snag a fish more
easily, the abnormally shaped prong may make the platelets link
up more easily," Weiss said.

     A study directed by Thomas Aversano, an associate professor
of medicine, reveals that African Americans may have heart
attacks earlier than white Americans because cholesterol build-up
affects more of the heart's blood vessels. Although fatty
material affected the same number of arteries with the same
severity in both racial groups, it covered twice the surface area
in the African Americans, he said. Scientists hope the findings
will help persuade high-risk patients to adopt a healthier
lifestyle before a heart attack occurs. 

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