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an online version of the magazine Fall 2006
Circling the Dome
Carol Grieder returned to the primordial ooze when she got word of her award.
Carol GreIder returned to the primordial ooze when she got word of her award.


Greider's Golden Pond

Twenty-two years after her landmark discovery, a molecular biologist wins "the American Nobel."


When Carol Greider’s husband and two kids poured into the foyer that afternoon in June, they were bursting with stories. They’d been at the pool! A heat wave had been raging, and husband Nathaniel Comfort wondered if the long-awaited ceiling fan had been installed in the bedroom. None of them sensed that Greider had news. She made one sporting bid to interrupt—“Can I tell you one thing?”—then just waded right in. Looking her husband in the eye, she blurted out: “So I won the Lasker Award.”

The chatter halted. Comfort looked stunned. “You what?” Hours later at a local restaurant, the family celebrated the fact that Carol Greider had indeed been tapped as one of the few scientists in history to win “the American Nobel.”

Who could’ve known that probing a common pond organism in 1984 would forever change medicine? Certainly not Greider, who at the time was an exuberant 23-year-old postdoc student pursuing a scientific hunch. A few bold researchers had been puzzling over the key question of how the ends of chromosomes replenished themselves. Two of the trailblazers, Elizabeth Blackburn (Greider’s Berkeley professor) and Jack Szostak, suspected the key lay with an as-yet-unnamed enzyme. But finding such an elusive protein would require a tenacious researcher. Greider took on the challenge.

Her pond creature of choice was Tetrahymena, a ubiquitous protozoan coveted by researchers for its abundance of chromosomes. Greider selected about 200,000,000 of the microorganisms to study. Eight months later, she was alone in the lab on Christmas day when the planets suddenly aligned. She could barely contain herself as the theorized enzyme revealed itself in a series of DNA markers arrayed on a sheet of X-Ray film. The research group named its new enzyme telomerase and set it loose in the world with a paper published in Cell in 1985.

The discovery of telomerase prompted earnest conversation within the cloistered community of cell biologists. What the devil was the value of such an enzyme in a common pond organism? By 1991, though, Greider was among the scientists who had established that telomerase not only existed in human cells, but is specifically expressed in cancer. Telomerase, it soon became clear, would pave the way for an entirely new field of inquiry into cellular mechanisms across virtually all forms of life.

In the calm before the storm surrounding the naming of this year’s Lasker winners, Greider saw the honor as a way to gain a platform to tout the under-appreciated value of “curiosity-driven science.”

There is also the tiny matter of the award’s cash value. The $100,000 will be divided evenly among her two co-discoverers, Blackburn and Szostak, yielding $33,000 for the Hopkins professor of microbiology. That should be more than enough, she says, to create separate bedrooms for 9-year-old Charles and 6-year-old Gwendolyn. Each will, of course, have its own ceiling fan.


Ramsey Flynn

When Reed Hall Is Your Home

After a half-century of service, a storied medical dorm talks about itself.


Laura Cappelli and Kate Distler doing the roommate thing on move-in day.
> Laura Cappelli and Kate Distler doing the roommate thing on move-in day.

Since its arrival in 1957, Reed Hall has welcomed thousands of medical students. Sandwiched inconspicuously off the brick promenade that flanks the north side of the Outpatient Center, the dormitory has also seen its desirability wax and wane. But now, with plans for new student housing under discussion, the aging dorm may be settling into its twilight years as a coveted hot spot. We decided to check in.  
Move-In Day

Sixty-two first-year students moved into Reed Hall at the end of August. Two of them—Laura Cappelli from U-Penn and Kate Distler from Notre Dame—had been assigned spots in a four-person suite on the 10th floor. Both graduated with top honors from their universities and received acceptances from the most select medical schools. Neither doubted that her first choice would be Hopkins, since they’d been blown away by the faculty here during their interviews.
Settling in like sisters already on move-in day, Cappelli and Distler realized that their compatible tastes in clothing would make for excellent wardrobe sharing.


Why “Reed”?

Lowell J. Reed (1886–1966). In his 38 years at Hopkins, Reed headed up biostatistics and became a dean of the School of Hygiene and Public Health. In 1953, he was named president of Johns Hopkins University.


History of a Dorm

Talk to any old-timer from Hopkins Med and you’ll hear nothing about dorm life. Before the rise of Reed, medical students lived in housing near the Hospital. But by the mid 1950s, these boarding houses along Broadway started coming down to make way for an expanding campus.

Reed Hall’s nine-story west wing went up in 1957; the 12-story east wing in ’66. (The current room configurations add up to 300 units). Even after the dorms’ arrival, most Reed residents tried to move out within a year or so.


The Grande Dame of the Dorm

Ann Snead has run things at Reed for 32 years. “It’s been a long haul,” she says. The dorm has seen a dramatic turnaround. Snead remembers that, some years back, tenants had T-shirts printed up saying “I Survived a Year in Reed Hall.” But the property’s fortunes have changed. “Everybody wants to live here now,” Snead is happy to report. She says young tenants crave the dorm because of its convenience, social amenities that include the adjacent Cooley Center gym, near-perfect 24-hour security, and price—currently a monthly maximum of $425. (An extra $115 will get you a parking space). So many students want to stay after their first year that Snead has started a lottery system for slots. “We have to throw these people out.”


The Most Tenured Tenants

Snead’s not completely sure who in history achieved the longest stay at Reed, but Drew Pardoll logged a remarkable seven-year stretch beginning in 1975 before, she says, being named to a faculty position. He’s now one of Hopkins’ leading tumor immunologists. But Pardoll’s term may soon be eclipsed by a new contender: Krishna Juluri, a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience, has roomed at Reed since 1999 and has no current moving plans.


Life at Reed

Most tenants’ waking hours are occupied by intense study, of course, and the dorm’s central location on the medical campus allows students to haunt the libraries and labs and clinics at all hours. (An underground tunnel goes to the Hospital). And dorm residents like the proximity to helpful classmates. Also on hand is a generous supply of about 400 films on DVD, which can be checked out for free at any time. Finally, as in most dorms, there are parties. Last year, according to Snead, the east wing’s entire 12th floor had a reputation as “the biggest party floor.”


Down the Road

Reed Hall’s days as a dormitory may be numbered. According to Richard Grossi, senior associate dean for finance and administration, the new biotech park going up north of campus includes plans for student housing. This could mean Reed Hall would be re-purposed—but it’s west wing might also be demolished to allow for green space. Snead’s thinking of retiring before such a transition. “This place is kind of like my baby,” she says.


Ramsey Flynn


  • In 1961, a west-wing room cost $45 per month, including maid service.
  • Sometime in the mid-’70s, the lobby areas were redecorated with purple and pink furniture.
  • The ratio of U.S. citizens to international students is currently 49 percent to 51 percent.
  • The dorm has a reputation for indestructibility. Snead recalls overhearing an exchange in 2003, when Hurricane Isabel was bearing down on Baltimore: “Don’t worry,” said the veteran tenant to his junior colleague, “this place is like a bunker.”



Summertime High

number 1The ratings are in

In the midst of an endlessly steamy July, with the once-glorious Orioles playing—yet again—another season of lackluster baseball, one welcome piece of news rocketed through Baltimore: For the 16th straight year, U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of hospitals placed Johns Hopkins at the top of the list.

The magazine ranked Hopkins #1 in otolaryngology, gynecology, kidney disease treatment, urology and rheumatology; #2 in neurology and neurosurgery, ophthalmology and psychiatry; and #3 in endocrinology, cardiology, cardiac surgery, pediatrics and the treatment of cancer and digestive disorders, Tune in next year—same time, same station. 


Edith Nichols


screwSpinal Tap

Hardware's ripple effect


Times have changed for spine surgery, and it’s all down to the screws. Our purchasers say the costs of individual surgical screws can range from $25 each up to $1,200 each. Rods and hooks have been following a similar pattern. But it also seems the fancier units have enabled our surgeons to answer a growing number of patient needs. In just the past six years, the Hopkins spine fusion surgeries that require metal implants have gone from 561 cases per year to 985. On a per-case basis, the costs of advancing hardware have nearly doubled, from $4,902 in 2000 to $9,527 in 2006. Total costs for spinal implants over the same period rose from $2,750,170 to $10,641,983.  RF


M.D., Supercharged

For med students, adding an M.P.H. offers options

woman hugging globe

“Savings lives millions at a time,” cries the slogan that proudly tops the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Web site.  And now that message seems to be catching on with students at the School of Medicine, too. More than 70 med students over the past decade have opted to delay their M.D. by one year by combining it with a masters of public health from the primo Bloomberg School across the street. And this year, with a new high tally of 15 medical students enrolled in the dual-degree program, its’ clear that the M.D./M.P.H. combo is hot. How come?

“I plan to spend time in Zambia in my fourth year of medical school working with malaria,” says Michael Sauder, who started working toward his M.P.H. this fall. “The public health curriculum prepares you for that kind of international medicine and international health.” Like other dual-degree candidates, Sauder took a leave of absence after his third year to begin the 11-month program.

Meanwhile, Matt Burkey, a fourth-year medical student who completed his M.P.H. last May, is using his new knowledge to help recent immigrants gain access to health care in Baltimore. “Medical school emphasizes hospitals for our care delivery system,” he says, “while M.P.H. case studies exposed me to less-expensive, outside-the-box systems, adaptable to the inner city.     

“Public health people,” Burkey says, “think really big about how we can improve the health of a large group of people. That’s a very exciting conversation to have.” And now that he’s learned both the micro and macro views of patient care, he’s thinking, “I’d like to find a way to combine my public health and clinical interests.”

Whether it’s tracking and preparing for the bird flu, reacting to anthrax and bioterrorism concerns, fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic or debating the ethical ramifications of stem cell research, more and more M.D./M.P.H. students are echoing Burkey’s feelings.

As James Weiss, the School of Medicine’s associate dean of admissions, notes: “In many cases this second degree becomes a career-forming move for our medical students.”


Mat Edelson

Med Student Lobby

A boot camp for health advocates


video game screen capture

Should physicians weigh in on national pastimes that threaten populations? You bet they should, say faculty here, who are increasingly sharpening advocacy skills of med students.

In a recent class of the School of Medicine’s Physician and Society course, students were asked to plan a real-world lobbying campaign targeting specific politicians in Washington. To carry out the assignment, one group tackled the rising menace of video game violence. With med student Alodia Gabre-Kidan leading off the presentation, the group made its case in a mock appeal to a Washington lawmaker by assigning class proctor Maggie Moon the role of Illinois Senator Dick Durban.

“Kids can find themselves at the trigger of a gun,” Gabre-Kidan began, “just by booting up a computer or a video game.”

To vivify their case, another student described how one of the Grand Theft Auto games rewards players who shoot pedestrians, blow up police cars and rape prostitutes. Presenter Mike Sentone then referred to a BBC report describing how a UK youth followed the lessons of a violent video game by killing his 14-year-old friend with a hammer. “And that’s just one example,” he said.

Students cited health groups that agree violent video games in the hands of young teens portend social harm. They trotted out alarming study results: increased violent behavior, retaliatory aggression and physiological arousal, along with a decrease in constructive social behaviors.

What’s a good legislator to do?

Unveiling a savvy five-point plan, the students proposed stricter sanctions for vendor violations, education for parents, prohibitions against marketing such games to children, funds to study their effect and a campaign to bring other senators on board.

“The data you’ve shown was the best I’ve ever seen,” said would-be “Senator” Moon.


Ramsey Flynn



The Hopkins duo, John and Johns.
>The Hopkins duo, John and Johns.

It’s not easy being John Hopkins when you work for … well…


A couple of years ago, when John Hopkins took a job as a financial liaison with the Home Care Group at Johns Hopkins, he knew he was in for plenty of ribbing. But Hopkins is an affable guy, so he’s remained cheerful about his pesky moniker.


What’s it like to be John Hopkins at Johns Hopkins?

When I started working here, I was like the fat lady in the circus. People would come by and say,  “I want to see the guy called John Hopkins.”


Any misdirected phone calls?

People call and ask for John Hopkins, meaning the institution, and get transferred to me. They need medical care, or medical equipment—things I know absolutely nothing about. Or, there’s an overdue bill and the caller—some guy from a collection agency in, say, Dubuque—expects me to pay. I try to explain that Johns Hopkins is a huge institution.


Has your name ever opened doors?

Definitely. I used to conduct market surveys for dialysis equipment. I’d call clinics and hospitals and say I was John Hopkins, and the information would just pour out. People would tell me everything, because the name John(s) Hopkins has so much clout.


What about all those people who omit the “s” in “Johns” and call the place “John Hopkins?”

It really registers. How can they work here and mispronounce the name? People don’t call the Mayo Clinic the May Clinic.


Any advice on naming a child for someone famous?

Don’t do it. My name is John Michael Hopkins. In my family, we all went by our middle names, so everybody called me Michael. Then, during roll call on my first day in high school, I decided to switch to my first name. If I had to do it over, I’d go back to being Michael.


 Lydia Levis Bloch


Director with a Latin Beat

Amzel’s research travels take him back to his roots.


Dr. L. Mario Amzel

He’s the son of a shoe-store salesman from Buenos Aires. He earned his Ph.D. in Argentina and then in 1970 traveled to Hopkins on a postdoctoral fellowship. He’s been here ever since, and now L. Mario Amzel is the new director of the Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry.

But Amzel hasn’t forgotten his Latin roots. In the past year alone, the physical chemist has attended seminars, appeared on panels and lectured in Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Spain. He is also the current president of the Society of Latin American Biophysicists. “I just try to pay back the place that I came from,” he says.

Amzel, whose early work focused on determining the shapes and structures of proteins, was the first to define the structure of an antibody, the molecule that helps the human immune system fight off infection. He also was part of a Hopkins research team that produced the first high-resolution pictures showing how antibodies interact with antigens, foreign molecules that invade the body.

Amzel is course director of “Biochemical and Biophysical Principles” and lectures in seven different School of Medicine courses. In 1994, graduate students recognized him with a Teacher of the Year Award. In 1999, he received a University Alumni Teaching Award.


Neil A. Grauer

Follow That Fish

New physiology chief pursued childhood fascination.


Dr. Bill Guggino

For Bill Guggino, a childhood question led ultimately to his new post as director of the Department of Physiology.

As a boy, Guggino loved the ocean and wondered, “How do fish live in the sea?” As a graduate student seeking a research topic, he remembered the question and began studying the chloride-secreting cells that enable fish to survive in a salty environment.

Three decades later—including a quarter-century as course director in organ systems physiology and histology—Guggino is an international authority on chloride transport and a key figure in developing a gene therapy for cystic fibrosis.

“The protein involved in secreting chloride in fish is like the one that’s defective in CF,” Guino notes, so he’s still studying the basic science of the chloride channel and its malfunctions in CF.

Guggino arrived from Yale in 1982. In 1992, he co-authored with Peter Agre a paper detailing the first water channel protein. Eleven years later, that research won Agre a Nobel Prize.

Vice chairman of research in the Department of Pediatrics since 1996, Guggino is recognized for work that won the Doris F. Tulcin Cystic Fibrosis Research Award in 2005.

His vision for his department? “We need both tools and new coursework. Then we’ll have to train a whole generation of students.”


Neil A. Grauer

From Uganda to Chief

A Hep-C whiz who rose through the ranks.


Dr. David L. Thomas

The division that David L. Thomas inherits as the new director of Infectious Diseases is a colossus compared to two decades ago. When his predecessor, John Bartlett, took the helm in 1980, ID had three full-time staff members. Today, it has a roster of 55 faculty and a staff of 177 and treats more than 5,100 patients a year. Its research budget of $40 million is one of Hopkins’ largest.

With hepatitis C now the leading cause of liver disease in the United States and killing up to 12,000 annually—the division’s new leader comes well-equipped. Since joining the division as a fellow in 1990, Thomas has become a world-renowned expert on the disease. He has also investigated how co-infections with hepatic C viruses and HIV grow in intravenous drug users with weakened immune systems.

Thomas assumed leadership of the division on July 1, after having spent a year in Uganda working with other infectious disease experts from North America to help the Ugandans establish an institute for combating the effects of AIDS and other infectious diseases.


Neil A. Grauer 

More Alpha Docs

Marilyn S. Albert, professor of neurology and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, has received the 2006 Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute Award.


Joseph Brady, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the founder of the Division of Behavioral Sciences, has been honored by the Association for Behavior Analysis for outstanding contributions to the experimental analysis of behavior.


Allan Joel Belzberg, associate professor of neurosurgery, was one of only 10 listings in the new edition of Who’s Who in Medicine and Health Care, in a special section titled “Healthcare Honorees: 10 Who Made a Difference.”


Benjamin Carson, director of the Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery, has received the Spingarn Medal, the NAACP’s highest honor.


H. Ballentine Carter, professor of urology, has been elected to the American Association of Genitourinary Surgeons.


Richard Chaisson, professor of medicine, epidemiology and international health, has received the 2006 World Lung Health Award for scientific achievement from the American Thoracic Society. Founder of the Hopkins Center for Tuberculosis Research, he leads the largest TB-related research effort in the United States, with more than $100 million in grants.


Ronald Cohn, chief resident in the McKusick-Nathans Institute for Genetic Medicine and the first Hopkins resident to train in a combined pediatrics and genetics program, has received the first Harvard-Partners Center for Genetics and Genomics Award for medical genetics.


Nancy Davidson, professor of oncology and director of the breast cancer program in the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, has been inducted as president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.


Mark Donowitz, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Epithelial Disorders, has become president of the American Gastroenterological Association and recently received the American Physiological Association’s Davenport Award for career achievement.


Frank J. Frassica, director of orthopedic surgery, has received the American Orthopaedic Association’s Smith & Nephew Endoscopy Distinguished Clinician Educator Award and the Southern Orthopaedic Association’s Distinguished Southern Orthopaedist Award.


Donald Jasinski, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Chemical Dependency at Hopkins Bayview, has been selected to serve on the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board Advisory Panel of Experts to monitor the UN’s international drug control conventions.


Edward McFarland, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Surgery and current director of the Division of Adult Orthopaedics, has been named the first Wayne H. Lewis Professor of Orthopaedics and Shoulder Surgery. Lewis is the president of Investor Services Limited and a patient of McFarland’s.


Eduardo Marbán, chief of the Division of Cardiology, has been named the 2006 recipient of the Gill Heart Institute Award for Outstanding Contributions to Cardiovascular Research.


Anirban Maitra, associate professor of pathology and oncology, has received the 2006 Outstanding Young Scientist Award. Maitra’s research has led to several potential treatments for pancreatic cancer.


Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, assistant professor of neurosurgery, has been named one of the first 13 recipients of a Physician-Scientist Early Career Award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The award provides $150,000 over three years to cover direct research expenses.


Srinivasa Raja, director of the Division of Pain Medicine, has been elected to a three-year term on the board of directors of the American Pain Society. He also has been nominated to the Scientific Advisory Committee of the International Association for the Study of Pain.


Patrick Walsh, University Distinguished Professor of Urology, has been elected president of the American Association of Genitourinary Surgeons.


Neil A. Grauer

 The Making of a Phenom
 Leaky Labs
 The Secret Life of Curt Civin
 Circling the Dome
 Medical Rounds
 Annals of Hopkins
Class Notes
 Triumph Amid the Tumult
 Learning Curve
Johns Hopkins Medicine

© The Johns Hopkins University 2006