Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 18, 1996 Form

In Brief
Medical News

MRI may identify risk for heart attacks, strokes

Like tiny time bombs, unstable fatty deposits lurk within arteries until breaking off and blocking blood flow to the heart and brain. But a Johns Hopkins study shows that magnetic resonance imaging may identify arterial deposits at high risk of rupturing.

Early identification and treatment of these unstable deposits may reduce the number of deaths from heart attack and stroke-related atherosclerosis, said researchers led by senior author Joao Lima, an assistant professor of medicine.

Atherosclerotic heart disease and stroke are the first and third most common causes of death, respectively, in the United States.

The study was presented at the American Heart Association's 69th annual Scientific Sessions last week.

PET scans link cocaine, heroin addictions

Researchers at Hopkins and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have the first direct evidence that the brain's own natural opiate system is deeply involved in cocaine addiction and craving.

In a NIDA-supported study, investigators found proof that cocaine addiction causes a decrease in the amount of enkephalin and an increase in the number of the brain's receptors. The body's natural opiates, endorphins and enkephalins, work at the same sites in the brain as synthetic opiates, such as heroin.

"This is the first demonstration of a direct link between changes in the receptor sites in the brain that can be seen and measured by PET scans, and the behavior of human drug abusers, namely the amount of craving for cocaine they experience," said James Frost, professor of radiology.

Scientists have long known that cocaine and opiates attach to different receptor sites in the brain. The new findings, based on PET scan studies of the brains of both cocaine-addicted and non-addicted individuals, also may lead to ways to predict if a recovering addict may start abusing drugs again, according to a report published in the November issue of Nature Medicine.

Medical cement can relieve back pain

A little cement may be all that's needed for people with back pain caused when vertebrae--the bones that make up the spine--become weakened by osteoporosis, according to a Hopkins radiologist.

The new technique, called percutaneous vertebroplasty, uses a medical cement injected through a needle to strengthen the bone and relieve pain.

One advantage to this minimally invasive technique is that it sometimes can be done on an outpatient basis, allowing patients to return home within a few hours after the procedure, said John M. Mathis, associate professor of radiology and co-director of interventional neuroradiology at Hopkins.

Inner city rats carry common tropical disease

Researchers at Hopkins and the National Institutes of Health have found that rats living in the alleys of inner city Baltimore can transmit to humans a potentially serious disease commonly found in tropical countries. The disease, leptospirosis, causes a flu-like illness that can include kidney failure, blood clotting and meningitis--inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

The discovery that three adult residents of Baltimore got the disease from being in alleys that contained infected rats is the first proof that people can get the disease just from living in an inner city. And it suggests that leptospirosis may be another in a series of re-emerging infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, that are occurring more often in U.S. cities. The disease, caused by the bacterium Leptospira interrogans, occurs throughout the world.

Most cases of leptospirosis are due to infections that are caused by swimming in fresh water, camping or working with animals. Other potential sites for infection include farms, sewers and meat-processing facilities. But the Hopkins study found that all three of the Baltimore patients appeared to have been infected by exposure to rat urine in alleys.

"Since rat populations tend to increase in inner cities that experience social and economic decay, there will be increasing opportunity for people to become infected with leptospirosis," said Gregory E. Glass, associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the School of Public Health. "Eventually, the disease may become endemic in inner cities; that is, a disease that is continually present, and not just a passing epidemic."

Glass is an author of the report, published in the Nov. 15 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

Other News

Women's volleyball, men's soccer teams advance

The women's volleyball team, coached by Heidi Mass, was selected to compete as the No. 2 seed in the four-team Eastern College Athletic Conference Division III South Women's Volleyball Championships. They were scheduled to face No. 3 seed Richard Stockton (N.J.) at Richard Stockton College this past Saturday. The team finished the regular season with a 22-10 overall record, setting a new school record for single season wins.

The men's soccer team, coached by Matt Smith, was one of 32 teams selected to the NCAA Division III Men's Soccer Tournament. Seeded No. 3 in the region, the Blue Jays were scheduled to face No. 2 seed Bethany (W.Va.) in the first round this past Saturday at Elizabethtown College.

Go back to Previous Page

Go to Gazette Homepage