Johns Hopkins Gazette: December 2, 1996 Form

In Brief
Medical News

Researchers close in on source of peanut allergy

Hopkins scientists searching for the culprits behind peanut allergy have shortened the suspect list from 30 peanut proteins to seven, an important step toward effective treatment of a stubborn and sometimes life-threatening allergy that may affect one in every 200 children and thousands of adults.

"We still need to check this list to see if we can shorten it any further, but we're headed in the right direction," said Hugh Sampson, a Hopkins Children's Center professor of pediatrics and principal author of a report published recently in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Peanuts are used in a variety of food products, and some sufferers can't tolerate even proximity to peanuts, making it difficult to avoid exposures that lead to potentially dangerous allergic reactions.

Knowing the specific proteins can help scientists begin investigating several approaches for treatment.

Scientists may try injecting the genes for the proteins into allergy sufferers. Other approaches available include using drugs to block the proteins' ability to bind with antibodies and using portions of the proteins known as epitopes to create a peanut allergy vaccine.

"Scientists can also try to genetically engineer a peanut that doesn't have these proteins," Sampson said. "When we come up with a successful treatment strategy, it can be adapted to other food allergies. This is a nice model for treatment of food allergy."

Transgenic mouse offers new clues to Alzheimer's

Mice engineered with a human gene linked to an inherited form of Alzheimer's disease produce more of the main ingredient of a substance called amyloid found in the brains of AD patients, according to Hopkins researchers.

"We found that mice with this particular mutant gene produced 50 percent more A-beta42(43), the long form of the A-beta amyloid peptide," said David Borchelt, an assistant Hopkins professor of pathology.

The new finding, presented last month at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, suggests a cascade of events in the development of AD that could be targeted for drug treatment. Borchelt and his colleagues plan to monitor the mice, now 7 months old, for characteristics and symptoms of AD, and for the links between presenilin-1 and amyloid-precursor protein.

Natural estrogen reduces stroke damage in females

Hopkins scientists have shown that natural levels of estrogen offer females three times more protection against brain damage from strokes than their estrogen-lacking male counterparts.

The study in rats, funded by the National Institutes of Health, concludes that the amount of brain that is "spared" once nourishing blood flow falls is related, in part, to circulating estrogen level, said Patricia Hurn, an assistant professor of research anesthesiology and critical care medicine. "We are now in the process of determining how much estrogen is required for neuroprotection and the biological and cellular mechanisms involved."

"This will be an important step toward determining whether we can use estrogen as a brain-protective therapy," she said.

Women are generally at lower risk than men for cardiovascular disease, including "brain attack" or stroke. "Many studies in humans and animals showed that estrogen is protective in heart disease, but our understanding of estrogen's effects in the brain as a neuroprotective agent is very limited," Hurn said.

Genetic mutations related to ALS disease identified

Hopkins researchers have identified two genetic mutations that appear to cause or contribute to nearly half of all non-inherited cases of the deadly muscle disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

"For the first time we've identified mutations that occur widely in sporadic cases of ALS," said Jeffrey Rothstein, associate professor of neurology. "This may ultimately help us speed up diagnosis of ALS and improve treatments--all the things we're going to be working on over the years."

Rothstein, postdoctoral fellow Glen Lin and research associate Lynn Bristol presented their data at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience last month.

"We've just started working on it, but if these mutations really are specific to ALS and we can develop a test to detect them, that could help us make the diagnosis and begin treatment much earlier in the course of the disease," he explained.

Rothstein and others are also looking at possible causes of the mutations.

"We've linked the mutations to ALS symptoms pretty firmly, but we still don't know if they are a primary cause of ALS or the result of another problem," he said.

The new finding is among the first to be partially funded by the Cal Ripken/Lou Gehrig Fund for Neuromuscular Research, a fund for research into ALS and other neuromuscular diseases created in 1995 when Ripken broke Gehrig's long-standing record for consecutive games played.

Other News

Super Fresh, Safe and Smart 'Go for the Green'

Super Fresh and the Safe & Smart Center are asking the Hopkins community to "Go for the Green" by collecting green Super Fresh register receipts. The supermarket chain will donate 1 percent of the total of all receipts to the Safe & Smart Center, located at 3333 Greenmount Avenue. Bill Tiefenwerth, director of Homewood's Office of Volunteer Services, encourages students, faculty and staff to send their Super Fresh receipts to the Office of Volunteer Services in Levering Hall on the Homewood campus.

In the year since the Waverly community resource center opened, it has become a busy hub of education programs for adults and children and as a police and city service resource center. Countless Hopkins students have come to know the center well; they are the manpower behind nearly all of the center's outreach services. But although the center has a thriving corps of young and energetic volunteers, it has a wish list, which includes more equipment and resources.

The center offers computer classes, individual tutoring for all levels; reading readiness for preschoolers, an after-school homework club, mentoring, intensive summer education programs and a photojournalism club for high schoolers. For adults, the center offers job-preparedness programs, GED coaching, sign language classes, an English as a Second Language program and family budgeting and management workshops.

Outside the education realm, the center is a source for community meeting spaces, community mediation and neighborhood relations programs, access to city services and it has a desk manned by local patrol police officers. For more information, call (410)516-4777.

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