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Bottom Line

79: Percentage increase in 2008, compared to just six years ago, in Johns Hopkins undergraduate applications.

Freshman classes next fall in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and Whiting School of Engineering have a combined 1,200 open spots, and 15,950 students have applied to fill them. Last year, the number of applicants was 14,848; in 2002, only 8,929 requested admission.

Those are not the only numbers that are up. A record 1,055 high school seniors selected Hopkins as their first choice in early-admission applications, a 6 percent increase compared to last year. Hopkins has admitted 439 of them, and they have record composite SAT scores — 1373. Thirty-two percent of the students plan to enter engineering or natural sciences programs; 12 percent have selected humanities majors; and 19 percent have been admitted for social and behavioral sciences. The rest are still making up their minds.

John Latting, dean of undergraduate admissions, notes that for several years Hopkins has been attracting more interest from West Coast residents, women, and future engineers. He believes the admissions office has done a better job of convincing students that they can have a rich undergraduate experience at Hopkins. He says, "They come pre-wired to understand that they'll get a great education. What they don't understand is they can have a great four years here, too. The stereotype about Hopkins doesn't acknowledge what it's like to go to college here. We've worked really hard to put our best foot forward. We really feature life outside the lecture hall." — Dale Keiger


Wikipedia established the paradigm for collaborative, user-generated reference materials. Akhilesh Pandey, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine, has used the same digital technology to create a specialized counterpart, ProteinPedia, that enables researchers from laboratories all over the world to contribute, compile, and share experimental information on human proteins, updating it as their research advances. Scientists can build on and revise each other's findings, as well as gain rapid access to new data. —Siobhan Paganelli, A&S '08


Recent news that Johns Hopkins Hospital had curtailed use of surgical latex gloves due to allergies led us to seek the original gloves introduced to surgical practice by William Stewart Halsted. Halsted, the hospital's first surgeon-in-chief, thought of using rubber gloves for surgery in the 1890s. The story goes that Caroline Hampton, his operating-room nurse, developed dermatitis from the disinfectants in the OR. Halsted saw the rubber gloves William Welch donned for autopsies, and thought Hampton could use something similar to protect her hands. So he asked the Goodyear Rubber Company to make special thin gloves for her. Surgeons picked up on the idea and soon the entire OR staff was wearing them. Surely the hospital saw fit to save these artifacts from the early days of modern medicine.

Or so we thought. Andrew Harrison, material culture archivist for the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives, led us up to a plain-looking door on Blalock 6, and opened it to reveal the William Halsted Museum. There was Halsted's mahogany desk, the address plate from his house at 1201 Eutaw Street, even a trunk holding his topcoat and tails, which he sent to Paris for cleaning. Then Harrison handed over a glove encased in a rectangle of Lucite. The glove was reddish brown and flaky and brittle in appearance due to age. On the back a name had been etched in the rubber: JMT Finney.

The glove had belonged to John Miller Turpin Finney, a surgeon who worked with him. "It's the same type of glove used by Halsted, but it isn't Halsted's," Harrison explained. "Nobody saved one of the original gloves. Why would you?"

Maybe for history. Or posterity. Or romance. Halsted ended up marrying Hampton, his OR nurse. "We like to tell people it's a love story," Harrison said. — Maria Blackburn


Jazzing the brain
Jazz musicians turn sections of their brains on or off when they improvise, according to new research from the School of Medicine. Charles J. Limb, an assistant professor of
otolaryngology who has a joint appointment with Peabody Institute, had noticed that musicians seem to enter a trance state when they create spontaneous music. Working with Allen R. Braun of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders, he designed a keyboard that jazz musicians could play while inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner. When Limb, who is also a jazz saxophonist, asked the musicians to improvise music while in the scanner, he found diminished activity in sections of their brains associated with self-censorship and planning, and increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which is linked to self-expression and individuality. The findings appeared February 27 in PloS ONE, part of the online Public Library of Science.

Engineers create single-cell lab
An interdisciplinary team from the Whiting School of Engineering and the School of Medicine has created a micro-laboratory so small it can be used to conduct experiments on single nerve cells. The lab consists of a tiny chip with a set of channels and wells, all under a lid. Researchers can place a neuron on the chip, then mimic brain chemistry by directing specific chemical growth signals through the channels to observe how the neuron responds. The tiny apparatus allows scientists to re-create conditions encountered by nerve cells in the brain, but under precise experimental control. Lead authors on the research, which appeared in the February 2008 edition of the British journal Lab on a Chip, were C. Joanne Wang and Xiong Li, both graduate students in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. —DK


Never heard of a brokered convention? Perhaps that's because there hasn't been one in more than 50 years. We turned to Robert Guttman, director of the Johns Hopkins Nitze School of Advanced International Studies' Center on Politics and Foreign Relations, for his thoughts on some common terms we've been hearing in this not-so-common political season.

Brokered convention: If no candidate holds enough delegates to win nomination in the first round of convention voting, additional rounds must follow — along with much wheeling and dealing. The last brokered conventions were in 1952.

Caucus: A nominating procedure in which members of a political party gather at a designated time to vote publicly for their candidates. Senator Hillary Clinton has said caucuses are unfair because they can disenfranchise working people. Guttman disagrees: "I think caucuses are one of the most democratic [systems]. It's like red rover. It's weird, but it's terrific."

Proportional representation: Unlike the Republicans' winner-takes-state primary system, the Democrats award delegates proportionally. So a Democrat can win a big state, but emerge with only a few more delegates than his or her opponent. What's more, some delegates are awarded according to how districts voted in previous congressional elections — districts that went heavily for the Democrat are awarded more delegates in the presidential primary.

Superdelegates: Delegates, such as party leaders and elected officials, whose votes are not tied to primary or caucus wins. Superdelegates were created in 1982 by a Democratic Party commission to ensure party leaders had a hand in election outcomes. "This is because Democrats don't trust the people," Guttman adds. "It's a total contradiction in terms. We have more primaries than ever before, and at the end, the party bosses get to decide." —Catherine Pierre

Vital Signs

More than a third of all child deaths blamed on undernutrition
Undernutrition in children and mothers causes more than 35 percent of all child deaths worldwide, according to a recent study from the
Bloomberg School of Public Health. Three symptoms of undernutrition —stunting, severe wasting, and restricted intrauterine growth —result in 91 million years of life either lost due to premature death or lived with disabilities. The study, led by Robert Black, professor of international health, appeared in the January 19 issue of The Lancet.

Pacemakers change heart biology
Johns Hopkins researchers found that implanting pacemakers not only resynchronized the heartbeats of dogs suffering from asymmetric heart failure, but changed the biology of their hearts by improving levels of more than a dozen healthful proteins. The findings could lead to improvements in how physicians combine implanted devices and drug therapy in treating congestive heart failure in humans. Cardiologist David Kass of the School of Medicine was senior investigator on the study, which appeared online March 3 in the journal Circulation.

Antibodies linked to autism
A new study out of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, published in the February edition of the Journal of Neurology, has found a link between autism and the presence of fetal-brain antibodies in mothers during pregnancy. Researchers led by Harvey Singer, director of Pediatric Neurology at the center, found greater reactivity between antibodies and brain proteins in about 40 percent of blood samples taken from mothers of autistic children. These antibodies may cross the placenta during pregnancy and cause changes in the fetus's developing brain. Singer stressed that autism is a complex condition and the mere presence of fetal-brain antibodies does not mean a woman will bear an autistic child. — DK

Forever Altered

"Maurice J. Bessman [professor of biology in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and a Johns Hopkins faculty member for 50 years], known familiarly as Moishe, is an exceptionally gifted biochemist. Here's how I know Moishe the person.

"It's 1968. I had received a PhD in electrical engineering from JHU, and in support of my dissertation Moishe had generously provided me space in his lab, as did Howard Seliger. As I was about to accept a job at Bell Labs, I went to thank Moishe and say goodbye. He asked: 'Where you going?'

"Me: 'To take a job at Bell Labs.'

"'How much they gonna pay you?'

"'Thirty-thousand bucks.'

"'Why not do a postdoc here? I can pay you $6,500.'

"The Bell Labs job was literally a dream job: freedom, potential prestige, first-rate colleagues. But I instinctively knew that I simply was not enamored with quantum electronics.

I didn't know anything about biochemical enzymology, which I'd be doing on the postdoc, but I flat out enjoyed and was challenged by Moishe, and figured in a short period of time I'd begin thinking creatively in this new area. This was the turning point for me. It launched me on the career that I continue to have, and still the fire burns in my belly.

"The third day into my postdoc, I asked some innocuous question. Moishe's response: 'I ain't here to spoon-feed ya.' Here was tough love in action, the beginning of a sustained friendship and my career in biology. Five years went by far too fast. The Hop has no better example of class, independence, exceptional intellect, teaching, mentoring, and, not incidentally, a JHU lacrosse fanatic. Bob Scott will no doubt back me on that."

Myron F. Goodman, Eng '68 (PhD), is professor of biological sciences and chemistry, as well as chairman of the Department of Molecular and Computational Biology, at the University of Southern California.


Course: License to Fool

Instructor: David Hershinow, a third-year doctoral student in English at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, specializes in Renaissance drama.

Course description: In this Expository Writing Program class, students enhance their skills at college-level academic writing and take a closer look at the role and the significance of wise fools, who engage a serious topic by making it seem foolish. Starting with William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, they examine the role of the jester Feste. From there, students consider Lucille Ball's comic work as Lucy Ricardo in the TV situation comedy I Love Lucy. They evaluate the work of controversial comic Sacha Baron Cohen, creator of Borat, a fictional journalist from Kazakhstan whose trip across the United States was chronicled in a recent mockumentary feature film. In their final essay, students call on their understanding of the wise fool to identify and analyze a fourth figure of their choice, either literary or real, who plays the fool so as to be wise.

Twelfth Night, or What You Will, William Shakespeare (1623)
Madcaps, Screwballs and Con Women: The Female Trickster in American Culture, Lori Landay (1998)
"The Man Behind the Mustache," a Rolling Stone interview with Sacha Baron Cohen, Neil Strauss (2006)
Writing with Sources: A Guide for Students, Gordon Harvey (1998)

I Love Lucy: The Complete First Season on DVD (2005)
Da Ali G Show: The Complete Series on DVD (2006)
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan on DVD (2007)

Up & Comer

Name: Jennifer Elisseeff
Age: 34

Position: Associate professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering; adjunct appointment, Department of Orthopedic Surgery

Stats: BS '94 in chemistry, Carnegie Mellon; PhD '99 in biomedical engineering, Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology

Scouting report: "Jennifer is one of the two or three leading people in her field, not only at her stage in her career, but period," says Murray B. Sachs, past chair of Biomedical Engineering who recruited Elisseeff to Johns Hopkins in 2001. "You don't give her a job that's not going to get done."

Research: Elisseeff's biomedical and tissue engineering lab develops synthetic biological materials for tissue repair, stem cells, and musculoskeletal tissue engineering. "The main application we've come furthest with is a cartilage repair product that just finished its first clinical trial in January in Europe," she says. Other scientists have been successful at engineering synthetic cartilage, but have had problems integrating it into natural tissue. Researchers in Elisseeff's lab determined how to bond synthetic materials to cartilage and soft tissues in the body for successful integration.

Mentor: Robert S. Langer at MIT, her thesis adviser. "He taught me the value of perseverance," she says. "His first 10 grants were rejected. He likes to say, "You're only doing something interesting if people say you can't do it.'"

Gotta . . . fly? In the last 14 months Elisseeff has flown to Europe nine times, as well as to Singapore, Japan, Brazil, and India. "I love the quiet time on overseas flights when you can look out the window and contemplate life," she says. "I'll boycott any airline that allows cell phones."

Here and Abroad

... In March, the Bloomberg School of Public Health announced an agreement with Taiwan's Education Development Corporation to create an executive master of public health (MPH) degree program tailored to professionals in the Asia-Pacific region. The three-year program is expected to begin in early 2009. Introductory coursework will take place in Baltimore; additional classes will be held in Singapore and Hong Kong, taught by Johns Hopkins faculty. In February, the Bloomberg School signed a similar agreement with Health Authority-Abu Dhabi to create an MPH-DrPH program in health care management and leadership for students from Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates.

... A $731,000 grant will enable Hopkins' Sheridan Libraries to give scholars around the world virtual access to more than half the extant copies of Le Roman de la Rose. Written by two 13th-century poets working 50 years apart, this 20,000-line poem about the art of love was for centuries one of the most-read works of French literature. About 250 copies are known to exist, many beautifully illustrated. For 10 years, the Sheridan Libraries' Roman de la Rose project has digitized manuscripts from museum and private collections. The grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will allow Hopkins to digitize 130 manuscripts owned by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and other French universities and libraries. ... In February, 16 students from Hopkins' schools of Nursing, Medicine, and Public Health participated in the V-Day 2008 Campaign, an international movement to end violence against women and girls. To raise awareness as well as funds, the Hopkins group held an academic forum, offered a domestic violence workshop, and staged two benefit performances of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues. The events raised about $6,000, to be donated to Baltimore charities that help women in need. —CP


Two Johns Hopkins undergraduates were among 20 students named to the USA Today All-USA College Academic First Team for 2008. Here's a look at some of the research they have pursued at Hopkins:

Kurt Herzer, A&S '09, "Analysis of the National Reporting and Learning System (NRLS) for Medical Errors in the United Kingdom"
Working with the Johns Hopkins Quality and Safety Research Group, Herzer created a text-mining methodology to analyze medical error reporting data from the National Reporting and Learning System (NRLS), a project of the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) of England and Wales. This is one of the most advanced medical error reporting systems in the world. Herzer's research helps translate complex data into meaningful information to assist in identifying and prioritizing national patient safety improvement opportunities.

Carmen Kut, Eng '08, "Where is VEGF in the Body? A Meta-Analysis of VEGF Distribution in Cancer"
Many malignant tumors produce large quantities of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which promotes growth of blood vessels to nourish the tumors. Kut collated measurements of VEGF in platelets, leukocytes, plasma, and serum for a number of cancers, then analyzed concentrations of VEGF in tumor tissue and other tissues in the body. She was surprised to find that the quantity of VEGF in tumors and the blood is small compared to the quantity in muscles. This large reservoir of VEGF in muscles prompts questions about how VEGF leaks from the muscles to the blood, and may have implications for the understanding and treatment of cancer. Results of her research, coauthored with Feilim Mac Gabhann and Aleksander S. Popel of Hopkins Biomedical Engineering, appeared last October in the British Journal of Cancer. —MB

Return to April 2008 Table of Contents

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