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an online version of the magazine Fall 2007
Circling the Dome
Ron Daniels and wife
Photo by Jay Corey
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Daniels and wife Joanne Rosen, a human rights lawyer, are the parents of four teens.
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Changing of the Guard

Penn Provost Ron Daniels named next Hopkins president.

 

Forced to dwell on who might be worthy of succeeding President William R. Brody after his announced departure last spring, university leaders embarked on a seven-month search that studied some 300 candidates and required dozens of discreet interviews in New York City conference rooms. In November, the search committee proudly unveiled its prize in University of Pennsylvania Provost Ron Daniels, a Canadian former law professor who’d served over nine years as dean of the University of Toronto’s law school before taking his Penn appointment in 2005.

Daniels performed a quick whirlwind tour here with November’s announcement, wowing the Hopkins community in a series of energizing talks and smaller hands-on visits that won praise for his breadth and depth of knowledge, skill, and just plain likability. One of the most oft-repeated descriptors in the wealth of media coverage about Hopkins’ designated 14th president-elect was the word “affable.”

After returning to Penn to finish out his duties in advance of Brody’s departure for the Salk Institute’s helm in March, Daniels left word that he’ll withhold detailed statements about his grand plans until after he and his wife and their family have settled into their new residence at Homewood’s Nichols House.

In the School of Medicine’s hallways, meanwhile, talk has centered on the challenges Daniels will face in addressing the deepening financial needs of a medical science and research colossus increasingly strained by a faltering economy and chronic cutbacks in government-funded research.

On those issues, the Hopkins medical community can take comfort in Daniels’ Toronto record. During his 10 years as dean, Daniels played a major role in boosting the university’s endowment from just $1 million to $57 million. And during one November interview with a reporter from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Daniels shared a pragmatic sentiment. “You can have the loftiest of dreams and the most daring of ambitions for your institution,” he said, “but at the end of the day, if you don’t have the resources, you will fail in terms of advancing that mission.”

Other reports from the November visits provided additional insights. The boyish-looking 49-year-old stays trim by running and weight-lifting. He downs regular doses of almonds kept in canisters in his office. He was the oldest of four children born to a father who practiced law and a mother who taught. His wife is human rights lawyer Joanne Rosen, who served as counsel to the Ontario Human Rights Commission in Toronto. She currently teaches courses on communications law and on the right to privacy at Penn.

And, in a sign that he’s capable of readily adapting to new landscapes and cultures, Daniels told the Johns Hopkins News-Letter that he and his family are “ready to swap cheese steaks for crab cakes.” Ramsey Flynn


Man with megaphone
 

Tossing the Script

New policy draws line between medical education and marketing.

 

The pitch might sound tempting.

Get free training in public speaking, receive a ready-made slide presentation on a disease treatment, and get paid several thousand dollars to lecture to other physicians about it, all on the dime of a pharmaceutical or medical device company.

But School of Medicine leaders say that these payouts come at a cost to academic freedom and professionalism when the firm largely controls the presentation’s content—for instance, dictating what information the speaker provides about drug side effects and competing products.

Concerned about such arrangements, the Advisory Board of the Medical Faculty has approved a policy that prohibits faculty from delivering talks if they don’t have full control and authority over the presentation’s content. The new rules target the type of industry-sponsored speaking—often conducted through a corporate speakers bureau—that blurs the lines between medical education and marketing.

“If companies want our faculty experts to talk about treatments for a disease, the experts must be free to speak independently,” says Julie Gottlieb, assistant dean for policy coordination. “They should not act as salesmen or spokespersons for industry.”  Gottlieb, whose office reviews faculty members’ disclosures of financial interests, says it’s not clear how frequently faculty have given the type of industry-sponsored talks targeted by the policy, although she calls the activity “fairly common.”

Todd Dorman, Hopkins associate dean for continuing medical education, who helped develop the new policy, has been asked twice by pharmaceutical reps to deliver talks prepared by a company, and he refused. Based on his discussions with department chairs, the practice has been unheard-of in some departments here but somewhat common in others.

The new rules aren’t intended as a blanket prohibition against participation in anything called a speakers bureau.  Many arrangements with the title “speakers bureau” simply recommend speakers on a range of topics and don’t influence the content of the talks. And it’s still permitted, says Gottlieb, for companies to pay faculty for talks if the speakers have intellectual control over their presentations.

“The type of speakers bureau activity that we’re targeting with this policy is essentially no different in concept than having somebody ghostwrite an article,” Dorman says.  Jamie Manfuso


Special Delivery

A dizzyingly complicated transplant effort brings new sight to Iraqi children.

 

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Iraqi Family
Photo by Kim Pratzer
> Akpek examines Noora, blind since birth.
Photo by Kim Pratzer

AS WAR RELIEF efforts go, the mission certainly looked complicated from the start. The basic idea was to help a group of Iraqi children regain their sight with corneal transplants. But how to deliver the care? Iraqi ophthalmologists in Baghdad said their best facilities had been destroyed in the invasion. They didn’t even have an eye bank anymore. Could Western doctors bring their skills, transplant tissues and equipment into the war-torn country?

As the logistical nightmares of that prospect began to mount—and the coordinators at relief agency Project Hope ruled out a plan to bring the kids to Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore—the mission took root at the modern 207-bed Anadolu Medical Center in Turkey, which shares a common border with Iraq. The hospital has been a Hopkins affiliate since 2002, with faculty here offering expertise in clinical and operational programs, patient safety, and continuing medical education. The designated surgeon would be Wilmer’s own Esen Akpek, who happens to be Turkish and could perform the transplants while visiting relatives.

But one of the most complex parts of the plan fell to Anadolu’s Ilkay Baylam, a hospital public relations aide who spent nearly 90 days juggling constantly changing variables in an earnest bid to guarantee the effort’s success. He needed to secure visas for each of the 10 Iraqi kids—some with an accompanying relative—along with several Iraqi eye doctors and a translator. He also needed to arrange multiple pickups at the nearby airport, their accommodations, and the timely transfer of extremely perishable corneal tissues. These came from different eye banks all over the world via FedEx, with their own transport restrictions. All of the factors had to come together for a five-day window in late-August.

As he was preparing to welcome the planeload of Iraqi patients at the Ataturk airport in Istanbul on the evening of August 20, Baylam almost panicked at a last-minute detail: How would the group pick him out of the waiting crowd? Taking his cue from others in the waiting area, Baylam quickly grabbed a sheet of white paper and wrote out the words “Iraqi Group.” But when he expectantly held the sign up in front of the exiting passengers, Baylam’s heart sank: Nearly everyone coming off the plane from Baghdad was part of an Iraqi group, including tourists and businesspeople. Baylam explains his miscalculation sheepishly: “I was excited,” he says.

Somehow, Baylam and the travel-weary group of 21 connected and got settled into their hotel rooms by 2 a.m. Other members of the effort also began to arrive, including three people from Wilmer—coordinator Kim Pratzer, technician Shanna Ingrodi, and surgeon Akpek. Over a dozen people from Anadolu would participate—the three Iraqi physicians were still inbound—swelling the group’s size well past 40.

For Wilmer technician Ingrodi, the mission’’s humanity came into sharp focus on Day One, when caregivers and patients were all brought together for lunch. She especially took note of 7-year-old Noora, who clearly had been blind since birth. “We noticed how she kept holding food close to her nose so she could smell it,” says Ingrodi, who used her personal vacation time to participate. “That really broke our hearts.”

Ingrodi describes those first hours as a delicate dance of trust building. She says she and her Hopkins colleagues all sensed how the Iraqi patients were apprehensive and scared. “We could tell they didn’t believe this was real,” says Ingrodi. “We had to convince them that this wasn’t a trick.”

When the first IV lines were inserted into the patients’ arms, nearly all of them began to cry, prompting their escorts to cry as well. But once the procedures began to unfold, says Wilmer surgeon Akpek, the human chemistry changed dramatically. “They treated us like we were angels or something,” she says.

Akpek also felt a special bond with Noora, who was accompanied by her mother throughout the fast-paced procedures. When the child’s bandages came off on Day Three, Akpek delighted in seeing the girl’s eyes “jumping around,” darting back and forth to take in the flood of visual details throughout the exam room. “She’s so happy,” said the translator.

In the end, Akpek found two of the children unsuitable for corneal transplants but was able to offer them other procedures to improve their vision, including a customized eyeglass prescription and medications for one young boy with dimmed corneas complicated by severe conjunctivitis. And six months post-op, all eight of the transplants—just one eye in each patient—took smartly, with skilled follow-up care proceeding amid the rebuilding of the ophthalmology center in Baghdad. The Iraqi physicians themselves say their own eye bank is also getting re-launched.

The involved aid agencies hope to do it all again, and the Hopkins teammates can’t wait. Says Ingrodi, “I definitely hope we get to go again next year.” RF


Nelson Named Cancer’s
New Public Enemy No. 1

Year-long national search brings game-changer to Kimmel helm.

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William Nelson
> Nelson: “The right time to be here.”

WILLIAM NELSON ’87, PhD, who specializes in prostate cancer genetics and treatment and is known as a national leader in translational cancer research, has been named the new director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Nelson, a member of the faculty here since 1992, was part of the Hopkins team that discovered the most common genome alteration in prostate cancer. That discovery has led to new diagnostic tests for the disease and fueled interest in new drug discovery and other treatment options, now ongoing at Hopkins.

In announcing Nelson’s appointment, Dean and CEO of Hopkins Medicine Edward Miller said that Nelson “has the energy and talent to ensure the Cancer Center’s continued success as a leader in discovery and patient care, but also to face the scientific and administrative challenges that science and health-care delivery face in the 21st century.”

As an undergraduate at Yale University, Nelson enrolled as a chemistry major and originally toyed with the idea of a career in law. But a lab tech stint after graduation, with Yale dermatologist and cell biologist Joseph McGuire, dramatically changed his course. McGuire had begun early clinical trials of retinoid-based drugs for a rare skin disease in children, and Nelson’s job was to further decipher the molecular biomarkers of the disease—research based on the field now called proteomics. Nelson was hooked. He went on to attend medical school here, also earning his PhD, and then stayed to complete an internal medicine residency and medical oncology fellowship.

Before being tapped for the top spot at the Kimmel Cancer Center, Nelson had served as the center’s associate director for translational research and co-director of the Prostate Cancer Program. He also served as a leader in the center’s partnership program with Howard University, which was launched to build research capabilities there and to enhance minority participation in cancer research.

On the national level, he was one of three co-chairs of the National Cancer Institute’s Translational Research Working Group, which worked to reengineer translational cancer science across the nation.

“This is a great place to be and the right time to be here,” Nelson said in assuming his new post, which became official on December 5 at a ceremony in the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building. At that time, he was also installed as the Marion I. Knott Director and Professor of Oncology.


The Six Million Mile Poster

A well-traveled piece of art honors animals in space research.

 

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> Back from space, the 18-by-6-inch poster now hangs in the BRB Building.

When Rick Linnehan flies to the space station and back, he has limited room for mementos. “They give me about the dimensions of a small thermos for personal items,” he says. On past missions, the astronaut has taken wedding bands, St. Christopher medals, and heirloom jewelry for friends and relatives—all made more precious by the provenance of having flown 6 million miles into space.

So it was an honor when the NASA astronaut carted a gift for Hopkins’ Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology Department, an 18-by-6-inch poster rolled into a packet the size of a cigar, on his most recent—and final—shuttle mission. “Hopkins has national and international reach,” says associate professor Sarah Poynton, who helped to coordinate the poster project. “Now it has gone as far as outer space.”

Linnehan received his doctorate in veterinary medicine from Ohio State in 1985 and participated in a two-year program with what was then Hopkins’ Division of Comparative Medicine and the Baltimore Zoo, before his commission as a captain in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps in 1989. During his time in Baltimore, Linnehan became friends with a zoo keeper, Bruce Baldwin, now an animal pathology technician at Hopkins. The two have stayed in touch over the years. “I have a real attachment to Baltimore and to Hopkins,” Linnehan says. “It’s part of what got me to where I am.” The veterinarian-cum-astronaut is currently studying public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School and plans to work in space policy.

When Linnehan offered to fly a piece of Hopkins memorabilia on the space shuttle, says Poynton, department members felt they had to come up with just the right thing. “First of all, we had only a tiny amount of room,” she recalls. “And it had to be durable, because it would be vacuum-packed.”

She and her colleagues decided to honor Linnehan’s veterinary specialty by celebrating the history of animals used in space research. Poynton enlisted the services of faculty members in Art as Applied to Medicine, where she holds a joint appointment, to create pencil drawings of animals. These renderings were then digitally transferred to a dark blue, star-specked background. The project was completed in time for the shuttle’s take-off on March 11, 2008.

“In the early days, they sent things up in space to see if humans could survive,” says Hopkins’ Cathy Rada, who helped to research the species used in space. “Later, it was to see how different organisms reacted—who would have thought they’d send frogs’ eggs up into space?”

Indeed, frogs’ eggs appear on the poster, along with monkeys, a mouse, and harvester ants. The first species in outer space was fruit flies, in 1947. Laika, the famous Russian dog, who flew 10 years later, is also shown. “We wanted to be sure that we included research done internationally, not just in the U.S.,” explains Poynton.

Now that it is back on Earth, the poster has been framed and will be kept at the Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology Department on the eighth floor of the Broadway Research Building. Beside it hangs a certificate of authenticity from NASA and a montage of photos that commemorate the Space Shuttle Endeavor Mission STS-123, Rick Linnehan’s last venture into space. Martha Thomas

 

 


A Patient’s New Plans

How a brain surgeon’s first calling inspired a math teacher’s second.

 

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Gallia, with Cheatham
Photo by Keith Weller
> Gallia, with Cheatham

HOPKINS NEUROSURGEON GARY GALLIA recently headed up a complex procedure to remove a walnut-
sized tumor from the center of a 48-year-old Tennessee math teacher’s brain. But there was a “complication,” of sorts: The now-recovered patient no longer wants to be a math teacher.

Almost from the beginning, Gallia sensed his new patient was an original. After reviewing some faxes she had sent to his East Baltimore office, Gallia called the high school teacher by phone, reaching her during school hours. When Sue Cheatham’s students learned a doctor was on the line, they fell silent. In their small Appalachian community of Ducktown, it had become well known that their long-cherished “Ms. Cheatie” had been diagnosed with a hard-to-reach brain tumor pressing on her optic nerves, slowly blinding her in both eyes. As with her vision, prospects for a medical intervention appeared to be dimming. 

Within three days, Gallia was greeted in his Baltimore office by Cheatham and all three of her very close sisters. Cheatham had been bracing for the worst, worried that surgeons would need to remove the entire top of her skull to get the tumor, which was entangled with her pituitary gland.

As it turned out, Gallia had no need to remove the top of Sue Cheatham’s skull. In a two-surgeon procedure that has gained a strong foothold here in recent years, Gallia partnered with endoscopic surgeon Douglas Reh for a minimally invasive approach. First, Reh crafted a corridor through Cheatham’s nose and opened up her sinuses. Gallia then removed the bone at the base of her skull, exposing the beast atop the patient’s pituitary gland, and gently removed the entire tumor. The delicate excavation procedure took more than 12 hours from beginning to end.

Cheatham returned to Ducktown, only to find her emotions see-sawing. She felt absurdly lucky to be alive. Her vision, amazingly, had come back to 100 percent and her face had returned to normal. And then the nagging thing that wouldn’t go away: Had her life been preserved for some higher purpose?

Cheatham was coming up on the 30-year mark as a teacher. She’d be eligible for retirement. She could do something new, with a whole new purpose. So she enrolled in nursing school in Chattanooga.

On her most recent follow-up trip to see Gary Gallia in Baltimore, Cheatham told him of her new plans. “I’m going to be a perioperative nurse,” she announced, “and I want to work with you.”

Gallia didn’t even pause. “You can be my nurse,” he said.

Cheatham will graduate from nursing school in December 2011. She is quietly exploring prospects for putting her 52-acre property, “Little Mountain,” up for sale. “Those things that were important to me are no longer important,” she says. “This is almost like a rebirth.” RF

 


A Ruzante Revival

For neurosurgeon Alessandro Olivi, the play’s the thing.

 

ANGELO BEOLCO SPEAKS to Hopkins neurosurgeon Alessandro Olivi.

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Gallia, with Cheatham
Photo by Keith Weller
Not just because the 16th century Italian playwright wrote in the Paduan dialect that Olivi grew up with. Or because Olivi attended high school in Italy, next door to the theater built to honor Beolco, familiarly known as “Ruzante.”

“Ruzante is a playwright who anticipated a modern society that was multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. In some ways he anticipated what my life is all about right now,” says Olivi, who came to the United States 26 years ago and today heads the Department of Neuroscience at Hopkins Bayview.

This past fall, Olivi helped revive some of  Ruzante’s works at Germano’s, a popular restaurant in Baltimore’s Little Italy that has become known for its burgeoning entertainment line-up. During a six-week run of Ruzante’s short plays, Olivi introduced some performances and also read passages by Ruzante and French playwright Molière to highlight the similarities between the two. Because Ruzante was a strong influence on the Italian Commedia dell’Arte, many believe his style—if not his actual work—inspired Molière’s character-based farces.

The illegitimate son of a nobleman, Ruzante set the nobility against the peasants in his writings, with the latter winning out in both cunning and perception. “He gave his works a particular twist by expressing the wit and intelligence of the poor people,” explains Olivi.

While Olivi declined an acting role during the autumn Ruzante run, the neurosurgeon would likely have been at home on the stage. At age 15, he appeared in the 1971 film La Moglie del Prete (The Priest’s Wife) with Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren. For two days of filming, Olivi and several other young men played seminary students. “One day we played soccer all day,” he recalls. The second day, the young men worked on a play. He recalls with a smile, “It may even have been a Ruzante play we were putting together in the film.” MT

 


Reaping the Fruits of Research

Revamped Tech Transfer Office is adapting to tougher economic climate.

 

Despite the bleak economic times, there is good news from the Tech Transfer Office: Last fiscal year, the office oversaw the creation of 12 startups based in whole or in part on technology developed at the School of Medicine—triple the average number of startups in the past. Together, those firms have received $76 million in private funding.

“These 12 didn’t happen by accident,” says Wes Blakeslee, who became Tech Transfer’s executive director two years ago. “We took very specific steps to increase the number of startups.” Among those actions was making inroads with the venture capital community as well as with “angel investors”—wealthy individuals who provide financing for startups. For example, last winter the office planned and hosted a regional conference where 90 angel investors heard presentations from several startup companies, two of which received funding out of the event.

Aside from startup formation, Tech Transfer also points to strong growth between fiscal years 2006 and 2008 in invention disclosures (up 25 percent), licenses and options (up 60 percent), and licensing revenue (44 percent).

Blakeslee notes that Tech Transfer—and, by extension, researchers—have had to adapt to changing economic times. In today’s tight economy, companies are less willing to snatch up early-stage discoveries right out of the lab. One alternative used by Tech Transfer is making deals to receive in-kind services or benefits from industry, as opposed to cash. In one recent arrangement, a company received a license from Hopkins in return for paying patenting costs and providing very expensive equipment to the inventor’s laboratory at or below cost.

Another approach involves packaging compatible technologies, such as new drugs and drug-delivery systems. “We recently created a startup with a local venture capital partner that allowed us to include technology from another university,” Blakeslee says. “The formation of this new company would not have been possible using the technologies separately.” Nick Zagorski

 


A Friendly Facade

New effort will help lay the genetic groundwork for “individualized” medicine.

 

Ask any passerby what he or she sees in Hopkins’ new clinical complex

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Zink
Photo by Keith Weller
under construction and you’re bound to get a variety of answers. One observer sees a bustling cruise ship set to sail. Another describes an endless horizon. Yet another spies a tranquil tropical sea.

Watery images do seem to prevail when gazing upon the glass façade of the new $950 million cardiovascular and critical care tower and Children’s Center. That’s no accident, says Brooklyn-based artist Spencer Finch, who led the glass design. “From the beginning, we were thinking about glass as an analogue for water, which has a softness and welcoming aspect to it, something colorful and playful,” he says. “But there’s a certain amount of complexity in the design, too, and a feeling of activity and aliveness that reflects all the great stuff that happens here.”

The design concept was a likely fit for Finch, who has spent his career immersed in the mystery of nature’s elements. As an installation artist who takes on large-scale, thought-provoking pieces of art, Finch attempts to capture and re-create the quality of light at different times and different places using colored filters, fluorescent lights, and solar panels. His work has taken him to Paris at dusk and Arizona’s Painted Desert at night and, earlier last year, to East Baltimore.

Designing the new face of Hopkins Medicine was a more daunting project than any he had tackled before, he says. “I’m used to putting up an exhibition in a gallery or a museum for a month or two, but this is something really permanent.”

Any concerns Finch felt were allayed by the team he was joining—New York-based art curator Nancy Rosen, architect and Hopkins Facilities Director Michael Iati, consulting architect Allen Kolkowitz, and architect Ed Witkowski of Perkins+Will, the Chicago-based firm charged with designing the new clinical buildings. The group met with Finch at his Brooklyn studio, where they engaged in a crash course on the tectonics of glass, and together toured glass-designed buildings in New York to inspire their own quest for a truly original design. The collaboration led to the glass-as-water concept and the use of two panes of glass to create a sense of depth, and colored panels to imbue an aura of nature. But which colors? Long captivated by the French impressionists, Finch selected 44 colors from the Claude Monet Water Lily paintings that lined his studio walls. Then he crafted glass panels in each color, and placed the test panels on the roof of the Orleans Street Garage across from the new hospital site. After observing the glass at different times of day and in different weather conditions, he narrowed the list down to the 26 hues that formed the most natural palette for East Baltimore’s light. The result, Iati suggests, will be a somewhat subtle but ever-changing light show that reflects the green space bordering the complex and the movements of the clouds, sun, and stars above.
“It’s very possible the buildings will never look the same anytime you look at them,” says Iati. “They will always be changing with the light.”

Still, something was missing. A hospital, especially America’s top-ranked hospital, the group thought, should exude the energy and innovation its faculty and staff bring to patients each day. Finch’s solution? Frits—hundreds of hand-made paintbrush strokes that became computer-generated, ceramic etchings in the glass. They would add movement and enhance the interplay between the glass and the light. “The frit, in its greatest abstraction, is the pebble falling into the pond,” explains Kolkowitz. “It is the resonance in the water.”           

The frits also serve to unify the adult and children’s towers, though each is individualized by the panel color choices—predominant greens for the adult side and blues for the children’s. Add the curved facade of the Children’s Center reaching out to Orleans Street, a central courtyard, and the landscaped adult side set back but not walled off, and you have a welcoming presence.

“The concern was that we not present a fortress but an institution that connects with the community, that invites people in, visually and intellectually, to engage in a conversation,” says Kolkowitz. He adds, “As it’s coming together now with a significant part of the facade in place, all of us are feeling like this building is an old friend.”  Gary Logan

 


Uniquely Endowed

Though two years from opening, Hopkins’ new towers already offer an ever-changing light show.

 

Despite being remarkably similar on a genetic level—the genomes of any two people are more than 99 percent the same—each one of us remains unique. Even a tiny fraction of variation between the 3 billion DNA letters that make up one’s genome and that of another can account for the difference between having a penchant for peanuts and a life-threatening allergic reaction to them.

These slight genetic variations imply that every one of us has his or her own “flavor” of health or disease, observes David Valle, director of the Johns Hopkins McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine.

He is leading a new effort here—the Johns  Hopkins Individualized Medicine Program—that will soon begin collecting DNA samples from willing Hopkins patients. The ultimate goal: to re-tool the practice of medicine from a focus on the standard “average” patient to make it “individualized.”

With $200,000 in annual funding from the Provost’s Office for the next three years, the JHIMP pilot project will begin with Hopkins clinicians collecting DNA samples from patients who agree to participate. Hopkins researchers will then interrogate individuals’ genomes to identify variants that meet particular validation criteria. These variants ultimately will appear on the computerized medical charts of those participating in the study.

“Say I write a prescription for a standard dose of 6-mercaptopurine for a young patient who comes in with acute lymphocytic leukemia, and as soon as I push the button it comes back flagged on his chart, indicating that he harbors a single nucleotide variant that makes him exquisitely sensitive to this drug,” Valle says. “So either I do not use it, or I use it at one-tenth the normal dose, avoiding the standard dose that would  land that patient in isolation with bone marrow suppression, getting platelets for three weeks.”

In addition to putting patients’ DNA information on their medical charts, another aim of the project is to foster basic research that will lead to even greater understanding of the functional significance of genetic variation.

“At the time of conception, each of us gets our own unique slice of the apple pie that is our species’ genetic endowment,” Valle says. “We’re just now beginning to see the potential for rapidly assessing each individual’s genetic endowment.” Maryalice Yakutchik

 

 


ALPHA DOCS


The Vision Nobel

Duo honored for their groundbreaking discoveries in eye research.

 

Nathans and Yau
>Nathans (l) and Yau are working to preserve the wonders of sight.
Photo by Keith Weller

When Jeremy Nathans and  King-Wai Yau received the world’s richest award for eye research last September, they both spoke first of the wonders of vision before describing what they had done to unravel its mysteries and prevent its loss.

Addressing the Lisbon, Portugal-based Champalimaud Foundation, Nathans, professor of molecular biology and genetics and ophthalmology, marveled that the human eye “can provide information about objects that are just centimeters away—as when we thread a sewing needle—or are trillions of miles away, when we look up at the stars.”  And from vision, said Yau, professor of neuroscience and ophthalmology, “come art, science, humanity, beauty, and practically all aspects of life.”

The $1.4 million Champalimaud Vision Award, sometimes called the “Nobel Prize for vision,” was bestowed on Nathans and Yau for their “ground-breaking discoveries in the laboratory that enhance our knowledge and understanding” of this precious sense.

Nathans uncovered the genetic code of the human visual pigment molecules within the eye that capture light and mediate our sense of color. He also discovered some of the ways in which genes control eye development and contribute to inherited eye dysfunctions, such as color-blindness, and diseases, such as macular degeneration in children and young adults.

Yau was cited for discovering how the absorption of light by these visual pigments generates the electrical signals that initiate vision and also regulates the natural daily rhythms of our bodies.  His work also has led to major advances in understanding many hereditary blinding diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa. Neil A. Grauer

 

 


One Medicine

Christine Zink works at the intersection of animal and human health.

 

Zink
> Zink with a four-legged friend

AS THE NEW director of the Department of Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology, veterinarian Christine Zink is eager “to help to blend veterinary medicine with human medicine.”

“Medicine is medicine,” she says, simply. “An idea that is surfacing now is the concept of ‘one medicine,’ and the fact that animal health and human health are so inter-related.” Animals can pass diseases on to humans—but humans also can infect animals, she notes. In addition, “we eat animals, so the health of the whole agricultural industry is intimately related to the health of humans,” Zink says. “What we want to do is make that [interdependence] more visible to the public.” Among her goals: collaborating with the School of Public Health to create a training program in veterinary public health.

A 22-year veteran of the School of Medicine, Zink began her career at Hopkins in neurology. She is internationally renowned for her research on the effects of HIV in the brain, and is credited with discovering the potential HIV-suppressant properties of the common acne antibiotic minocycline.

Zink moved to the Division of Comparative Medicine, the forerunner of the department she now heads, in 1990. The departmental name was changed several years ago to Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology, she explains, in order to more accurately reflect the department’s academic mission. “Nobody really understood what ‘comparative medicine’ was, although there are comparative medicine departments in medical schools throughout the country. They’re where the veterinarians reside who take care of the animals—and while that is one of our functions, we wanted to emphasize our academic function, our research function,” she says.

For a decade, Zink has been enhancing that emphasis by heading the Hopkins program that trains veterinarians to become biomedical researchers, as well as veterinary pathology and laboratory animal scientists. Some 40 of her students have gone on to academic, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical company positions all over North America and in Europe.

A native of Canada and veterinarian and PhD graduate of the University of Guelph, located about an hour west of Toronto, Zink lives near Ellicott City on a five-acre property that provides plenty of romping room for her three dogs  (golden retriever “Spike,” Norwich terrier “Vespa,”  and border collie “Fate”) and her cat, “Topper.”

Zink also is an avid nature photographer; actively involved in canine sports medicine for dogs that participate in agility, obedience, and tracking competitions; and the author of several dog books. Among her volumes is Dog Health and Nutrition for Dummies.  NAG

 

 


More Alpha Docs

Peter Agre, professor and director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, has been named president-elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

 

Joseph Brady, professor of behavioral biology and neuroscience, has been given the 2008 Mentorship Award from the College on Problems of Drug Dependence.

 

Jeff W. M. Bulte, professor of radiology, biomedical engineering and chemical and biomolecular engineering, is among 38 U.S. scientists to win one of the NIH’s new EUREKA (Exceptional Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration) research grants, providing $200,000 per year for four years.

John Cameron, professor and former chief of surgery, has been installed as the 89th president of the American College of Surgeons. The 73,000-member scientific and educational group is the largest organization of surgeons in the world.

Ronald Cohn, assistant professor of pediatrics and neurology, has received a 2008 New Innovator Award from the NIH. The award includes a $1.5 million grant to cover research costs for the next five years.

Lisa Cooper, professor of medicine, and Harry (Hal) Dietz, the Victor A. McKusick Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine and Molecular Biology and Genetics, have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, one of the highest honors in biomedicine.

Todd Dorman, professor in the departments of Anesthesiology/Critical Care Medicine, Medicine, Surgery, and Nursing and vice chair for critical care, has been elected president of the American Society for Critical Care Anesthesiologists.

Carol Greider, professor and director of molecular biology and genetics in the Institute of Basic Biomedical Sciences, will share the 2009 Paul Erhlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize of $143,490 (100,000 euros), for her pioneering research on the role in cancer and stem cell failure of telomeres, the structures capping the ends of chromosomes.

Ulrike Hamper, professor of radiology, urology and pathology and director of the division of ultrasound, has been named a fellow in the American College of Radiology. Hamper also is the treasurer of the Society of Radiologists in Ultrasound and recently completed a term on the board of governors for the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine.

John Isaacs, professor of oncology, urology, and cellular and molecular medicine, as well of professor of biomedical engineering in the Whiting School, has received the 2008 Meritorious Award from the Society for Basic Urologic Research.

David Kass, professor of biomedical engineering and cardiology, has received the American Heart Association’s Basic Science Research Prize, the AHA’s top award in the field.

Wayne Koch,  professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery and director of the Head and Neck Cancer Center, has become president of The American Head and Neck Society.

Min Li, professor of neuroscience, will direct the new Ion Channel Center, funded by a $10 million “Roadmap” grant to the School of Medicine from the National Institute of Mental Health. The center will collaborate with researchers nationwide on identifying molecular probes that can bind and regulate the tiny protein channels that allow small nutrients into and out of cells.

Paul McHugh, University Distinguished Professor and former head of the Department of Psychiatry, has received the 2008 Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat International Award in Mental Health.

Neil Powe, professor of medicine and director of the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research, has been named a University Distinguished Service Professor. Powe also is a professor of epidemiology and health policy and management in the Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of its clinical epidemiology program.

Dorry Segev, assistant professor of medicine, has received a Clinical Scientist Development Award from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The $400,000 award will fund a study of the role that frailty plays in clinical decision-making for patients over the age of 65 who are undergoing dialysis and considering kidney transplantation.

Eileen “Patti” Vining, professor of neurology and pediatrics and director of the John M. Freeman Pediatric Epilepsy Center, has received the J. Kiffin Penry Excellence in Epilepsy Care Award from the American Epilepsy Society.

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
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