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Bottom Line

6: Number of provisional patents filed by Hopkins biomedical engineering undergraduates since 2002.

Hopkins' Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Institute still considers its mission to be basic science. But its undergraduates, in growing numbers, are eager to pursue applications of that science. They're developing products and filing patents. Aditya Polasani, the institute's industrial liaison associate, says, "Previously, our students had two options — go to med school or go to grad school. Now more students are planning to move toward industry."

For example: When Seth Townsend, Richard Boyer, Chris Komanski, and Nathan Tedford were undergraduates, they collaborated on a non-invasive device that, through automated urinalysis, can detect acute renal failure 24-48 hours ahead of current methods, permitting earlier treatment and saving both hospital costs and lives. The students qualified as one of seven finalists in MIT's prestigious $50K Entrepreneurship Competition, and have incorporated a new company.

Undergraduates Kenny Hwee Seong Ching, Gillian Hoe, Elbert Hu, Melanie Ruffner, Somponnat Sampattavanich, and Ashkon Shaahinfar hold a provisional patent for a device that measures electrical impedance in a woman's cervix, to provide early detection of preterm labor. Other student teams have filed patents for a birthing simulator, a wireless device that measures muscle force, a two-axis bioreactor for tissue engineering, and an oral cancer simulator.

"Biomedical engineering is going to go more and more in the direction of applicable devices," says Whitaker Director Murray B. Sachs. "We don't want to skew the department in any way that will damage what I consider its soul, which is basic research. But I think with care this [entrepreneurialism] can be carried out in a manner profitable intellectually and worthwhile for humanity." — Dale Keiger

Here and Abroad

Last December, university President William R. Brody announced that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had awarded $15 million to Johns Hopkins to lead a research consortium of 20 U.S. institutions. The new Center for the Study of High Consequence Event Preparedness and Response will explore issues such as "critical decision-making, integration of regional resources, surge capacity... and health systems integration," Brody said.

...This month, Bloomberg School of Public Health Dean Mike Klag and Health Advisory Board Member Tom De Rosa will take a whirlwind tour of Africa, visiting the school's research programs, including primate hunter/virology projects in Cameroon; HIV/AIDS research in Rakai, Uganda; the JHU-Gates HIV and Malaria site in Zambia; and other HIV/AIDS and TB research sites in Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa.

...In 2005, Peabody undergraduate guitar student Maud Laforest won prizes in four countries. A student of Manuel Barrueco, Laforest took first place at the U.F.A.M. Guitar Competition in Paris, France; second at the International Competition of Guitar Music Performance in Mottola, Italy; and third at both the International Guitar Competition in Arhanes, Greece, and the International Solo Guitar Competition of the Guitar Foundation of America.

...On January 21, the Homewood campus celebrated its inaugural Chinese New Year celebration with music, dance, and the fantasy epic Wu Ji (The Promise). Hosted by the Chinese Student and Scholar Association of Johns Hopkins and other regional universities, and by the Chinese Embassy, the event drew more than 1,000 people, including Shaozhong You, the minister counselor for education affairs at the Chinese Embassy.

Forever Altered

Mentor, hero, inspiration: Hopkins teachers who have left their mark

"I was 22 and a first-year medical student when I first met Sol Snyder. He had quite a reputation as the most brilliant professor at Johns Hopkins and the most famous neuroscientist in the world. But his presentation to the first-year medical students was much more down-to-earth than I had anticipated. From the beginning, Sol made it clear that personal interactions were paramount. There were 120 students in the lecture and he addressed all of us by our first names.

"I joined his lab as a graduate student in the fall of 1988. We discovered an entirely new type of messenger molecule in the brain. This nitric oxide was a completely new neurotransmitter — something that was unaccepted at the time that is now part of every neuroscience textbook and helped lead to the development of Viagra. It was very exciting. Sol always reminded us that our research should be enjoyable and that if we weren't having fun in the lab, we were working on the wrong project.

"I had been working on nitric oxide for two months when Sol decided it was time to publish a paper. 'Bring in the figures and the literature and we'll go over it,' he told me. In about 15 minutes, Sol read the 10 or so papers previously published about nitric oxide in blood vessels, then dictated the entire paper in about two hours. That paper has been cited over 2,000 times.

"The greatest resource I have is my relationship with Sol. He taught me that the greatest value one can have on a field is in training others. Even today, whenever I confront a problem, I ask myself, 'How would Sol deal with this?'"

David Bredt, MD/PhD '93, is vice president for integrative biology at Eli Lilly and Co.


Maryland blue crabs aren't cheap. If you want to buy local crustaceans that are good and heavy, expect to shell out a few clams.

That's why it wasn't surprising when Johns Hopkins paid $30,000 to hang on to the 85-pound LAX Crab sculpture that guarded the North Gate of the Homewood campus all summer. The blue LAX Crab wears a Hopkins men's lacrosse jersey (No. 2, in deference to Jesse Swartzmann, goalie of the 2005 NCAA Division I championship winning team) and holds a lacrosse stick overhead in its mammoth claws.

LAX Crab was created by artist Julia Andersen and students from Catonsville High School. It was one of 170 decorated crabs that graced the city as part of the "Baltimore Crabtown Project," a public art, fundraising, and public awareness project of Baltimore's Believe in Our Schools campaign, which raises money to improve school buildings.

The sale of the crab sculptures was expected to raise about $600,000 for city schools, according to Eric Friedman, A&S '96, IPS '03, who oversaw the Crabtown project for the Mayor's Office of Community Investment. Most of the crabs were sold at live and online auctions, going for as much as $10,000. Hopkins purchased its crab months ago to show its support for city schools and generate interest in the auction. "Hopkins signed on with our school improvement effort early in the process," Friedman says.

The LAX Crab will likely make its permanent home in the Newton H. White Athletic Center. —Maria Blackburn


Course: Exploring the Museum: History, Theory, and Practice

Instructor: Elizabeth Rodini, lecturer in the History of Art, and Stuart W. Leslie, professor in the History of Science.

Course description: The class takes an interdisciplinary approach to some of the most prominent and influential institutions of our day. What are the origins and history of the museum? How do museums function as producers of social, cultural, and political meaning? What is their future as they respond to changing circumstances and demands? The course is a series of lectures by faculty from a range of departments and a group of museum professionals. Museums of anthropology, art, history, natural history, science, and technology are all considered.

Selected readings:

"Are Blockbuster Exhibitions Killing Art?" Oliver Clancy, BBC News Online (March 26, 2001).

Selected articles from Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine (1991).

"Museum Distraction in a Culture of Engulfment," Philip Fisher, Salmagundi (Summer 2003).

"Exhibition-ism: Museums and African Art" and "Does an Object Have a Life?" Mary Nooter Roberts, Exhibition-ism: Museums and African Art (1994).

Friday field trips:

Baltimore Museum of Art
Jewish Museum of Maryland
Mütter Museum
National Air and Space Museum
National Museum of American History
Walters Art Museum

The mission of VisionXchange is straightforward: "Our goal is to raise a lot of money for good causes while having an awesome time as well," according to its Web site. Last December, the group — which bills itself as "the new service and international relief organization on the Hopkins Campus" — hosted a Thursday night modeling contest patterned after the popular television show America's Next Top Model. It sold out its 500 tickets in 10 minutes, awarded two $1,050 modeling packages to freshman Austin Walker and sophomore Yasmene Mumby, and raised $4,000 for UNICEF's South Asia Emergency Relief Fund.

Then there was the amusement caused by the 35 competitors' glam profiles and funny bios, which still have us chuckling. ("Deep down, I'm a monkey-loving, sports-enthusiast who believes that popping your collar should be a way of life," writes one contestant. "I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. The laws of physics don't apply to me," claims another.)

VisionXchange's upcoming events include an April attempt to break the Guinness World Record for simultaneous blind dates, which currently stands at 568 couples. Salmah Rizvi, an organizer of VisionXchange, says they're hoping big: to get 600 Hopkins couples on one giant blind date, with proceeds benefiting international AIDS awareness.

We can hardly wait.


Forensic nursing, which blends nursing science with public or legal proceedings, is one of the fastest growing specialties within nursing practice, says Dan Sheridan. He is director of the Forensic Clinical Nurse Specialist program at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and president of the International Association of Forensic Nurses. Forensic nurses work directly with patients who have been victimized by crime and provide consultation services to nursing, medical, and law-related agencies. They are also trained to give expert court testimony. Like most medical fields, forensic nursing has its share of cryptic terms and acronyms. Here's a sample:

SANE: Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. A nurse who does physical exams on rape victims, documents their injuries on paper and in photographs, and collects physical evidence.

FNE: Forensic Nurse Examiner. The new name for Maryland SANEs. The Maryland Board of Nursing changed the name because their work now also covers victims of child abuse, elder abuse, and domestic violence. FNEs can specialize their training and focus on adolescent (FNEA) or pediatric (FNEP) patients.

SART: Sexual Assault Response Team. A team made up of nurses, police officers, victim advocates, social workers, prosecutors, and sometimes judges who meet periodically to ensure that all of the systems work together well and quickly when a victim reports a sexual assault.

Debbie Smith Act: Also known as the Justice for All Act, it was signed into law in November 2004. It provides the necessary funding for processing the backlog of DNA evidence amassed in U.S. crime labs and was named for a Virginia woman who was raped in 1989. After the rape, for six-plus years Smith lived in fear that her attacker would return. Eventually DNA evidence positively identified Smith's attacker, who was prosecuted and convicted of the crime. —MB

Vital Signs

What rats tell us about dementia...

Elderly laboratory rats that have retained good memory function do not encode and store memories the same way as younger rats, a finding that may have implications for prevention or treatment of human dementia. New research co- authored by Michela Gallagher, chair of Psychological and Brain Sciences, found that "sharp" 2-year-old rats — aged by rodent standards — relied on a different mechanism for strengthening the chemical communication across their neuronal synapses, the basic process of memory. If older human brains work in similar fashion, researchers could have a better model for developing treatments. The research team, which included Alfredo Kirkwood and Sun Seek Min of Hopkins' Krieger Mind/Brain Institute, published the findings online last November in Nature Neuroscience. —DK

...And what cats tell us about hearing

Research by Hopkins otolaryngologist David Ryugo may explain why cochlear implants are 80 percent effective in restoring hearing to young children born deaf, but are rarely successful in congenitally deaf adults.

In his study, published in Science online December 2, Ryugo used cochlear implants to electrically stimulate the nerves responsible for hearing in young, deaf cats. His results point to a link between introduced nerve activity and the structure of the auditory nerve ending. According to Ryugo's study, the success of implants depends on how far abnormalities at nerve endings have advanced, a process he observed in the cats. If children born deaf are left untreated for too long, their nerve endings may start to wither. Eventually, the abnormality becomes irreversible, and the nerve activity introduced with implants can't restore the nerve ending. "It is always difficult to know the age at which a child is strong enough to endure the surgical process," Ryugo says. "What we think this study tells parents of deaf children is that if cochlear implants are being considered, the earlier they're done, the better."
—Meagan White, A&S '06 (MA)


Quick and simple DNA detection

Hopkins researchers have developed a new method of detecting specific sequences of DNA. Jeff Tza-Huei Wang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, supervised a team that used the technique to find a mutation known to be in the DNA of women suffering from ovarian cancer. By means of synthetic DNA, the researchers could track down the target DNA sequence, then mark it in such a way that it fluoresces under laser light. One use of the technique could be to identify women who carry certain mutations and thus are at risk for developing the cancer. "Conventional methods of finding and identifying samples of DNA are cumbersome and time-consuming," Wang said. "This new technique is ultrasensitive, quick, and relatively simple. It can be used to look for a particular part of a DNA sequence, as well as for genetic defects and mutations." The research appeared in the November 2005 issue of Nature Materials.

Neutralizing a deadly disease

Schistosomiasis, a disease caused by parasitic worms in water, affects 200 million people around the world. Though it is not found in the United States, it is a major cause of bladder cancer in the developing world and of liver failure due to cirrhosis worldwide. Hopkins researchers have devised an effective means of neutralizing the parasites that is both environmentally safe and potentially affordable. Jean Marie Naples, Clive J. Schiff, and Rolf U. Halden, all of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, found that spraying water with a mixture of red cedarwood oil distillate and a food additive called Tween 80 blocks the parasites from penetrating the skin of their potential hosts. The oil- Tween 80 combination can economically treat large bodies of water, regardless of their depth or volume. The study appeared in the November 2005 issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Up & Comer

Name: Adam Riess
Age: 36

Position: Professor in the Krieger School's Department of Physics and Astronomy, and an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute

Stats: BS '92 in physics, MIT; PhD '96 in astrophysics, Harvard

Scouting report: Einstein invented the idea of dark energy to explain why the universe predicted by general relativity was static, says Jonathan Bagger, chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department. "He eventually discarded it as the worst mistake he ever made. Riess' results showed that an idea that everybody thought was preposterous was actually true!"

Research: "I use large telescopes, particularly the Hubble Space Telescope, to observe distant exploding stars called supernovae. We use these supernovae to observe periods of past expansion of the universe. We've observed that the expansion rate has been speeding up recently, and we attribute this to a mysterious component of the universe called dark energy, which makes up 70 percent of the pie chart of the mass-energy budget of the universe. This has been confirmed by other experiments, but raises the even bigger question of what is dark energy?"

The buzz: Riess was first author on the paper that announced the discovery that the expansion of the universe was picking up pace (an observation simultaneously being made by a competing group at Berkeley). Science magazine named it "Breakthrough of the Year 1998." Riess appeared on CNN, and PBS' MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, and in 2003 was the subject of The New York Times' "Scientist at Work" feature.

Mentor: Robert Kirshner at Harvard, Riess' thesis adviser. "He helped me learn how to think rationally and with good common sense about the science that we do."

Return to February 2006 Table of Contents

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