Thursday, July 31, 2008

FDA Clears Test that Helps Identify Type of Cancer in Tumor Sample

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared for marketing a test that can help health care professionals determine what type of cancer cells are present in a malignant tumor.

The Pathwork Tissue of Origin test compares the genetic material of a patient’s tumor with genetic information on malignant tumor types stored in a database.

It uses a microarray technology to analyze thousands of pieces of genetic material at one time. The test considers 15 common malignant tumor types, including bladder, breast, and colorectal tumors.

"The clearance of the Pathwork test is another step in the continued integration of molecular-based medicine into standard practice," said Daniel Schultz, M.D., director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, which oversees medical diagnostics. "In the past, scientists have classified different types of cancers based on the organs in which the tumors develop. With the help of microarray technology, they will be able to classify these types of cancers in a standardized non-reader dependent manner based on the patterns of gene activity in the tumor cells."

The Pathwork Tissue of Origin test is the second in vitro diagnostic multivariate index assay (IVDMIA) device to be cleared by the FDA. In July 2007, the FDA issued a draft guidance document to address premarket pathways and postmarket requirements for IVDMIAs. IVDMIA tests combine the values of multiple variables to yield a single, patient-specific result.

Nearly every cell of the body contains a full set of chromosomes and identical genes but only a fraction of these genes are turned on or expressed in any given cell. Gene expression occurs when certain molecular information contained within DNA is transcribed to create molecules known as RNA. These molecules in turn make the proteins that perform most of the critical functions of cells.

Microarray technology can simultaneously measure gene expression levels of large numbers of genes. Small DNA fragments are placed or arrayed on a slide and then RNA, which has been extracted from the tumor tissue and labeled with a fluorescent marker, is spread over this "microarray."

Since RNA binds to its complementary DNA strand, how much binding occurs indicates how active the gene being evaluated is. This can be determined by putting the array under a scanning microscope and measuring the intensity of the fluorescent light at each point on the array.

Pathwork’s proprietary software converts the scanned image data to gene expression measurements. The gene expression patterns are compared with known gene expression patterns in the database that correspond to different tumor types.

The Pathwork Tissue of Origin test has been found to provide patterns that confirm existing tissue of origin of the 15 common tumor types using standard clinical and pathological information. This accuracy of this test is similar to that achieved by expert pathologists using current standards of practice.

PathChip, the gene expression array used in the Pathwork Tissue of Origin test, is custom-designed for Pathwork Diagnostics of Sunnyvale, Calif., by Affymetrix Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif. PathChip is the first custom Affymetrix gene expression array to be cleared for diagnostic use.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chambliss, Isakson Applaud $5.5 Million Reimbursement for Sumter Regional Hospital

U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., today applauded the decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide $5.5 million in federal funding to help reimburse Sumter Regional Hospital in Americus for leased medical equipment. The hospital was severely damaged and the adjacent HealthPlex was destroyed during the storms and tornadoes that hit the area on March 1, 2007. Chambliss and Isakson toured the damage with President Bush on March 3, 2007, and have been working with local officials throughout the recovery process.

“This assistance is greatly needed,” said Chambliss. “The storms and tornadoes that hit Southwest Georgia last year took a tremendous toll on the Americus area and severely displaced a critical medical facility that so many folks in the area rely on. It is imperative that the federal government provide all the assistance it can to continue the rebuilding process and ensure that Georgians who live in this area have access to the quality health care they deserve.”

“This is welcome news for Sumter Regional Hospital,” Isakson said. “These funds are essential to the hospital’s recovery from the severe tornadoes that wreaked havoc across much of the area and will go a long way toward ensuring that residents of the region continue to receive the superior healthcare they have come to expect from Sumter Regional.”
Community News You Can Use

Doctors at Piedmont Hospital Help Pioneer New SpyGlass™ System

May Alter Diagnosis and Treatment of Patients with Liver,
Gallbladder and Bile Duct Conditions: First of its Kind in Atlanta

Local Man’s Health Scare Shows Value of New System that Provides Direct Visualization of
Patient’s Bile Ducts and May Reduce Need for Additional Testing and Repeat Procedures

When the doctor at his local hospital diagnosed Ira Crawford with bile duct cancer and said he was discharging him so he could spend his final days at home, the 82-year-old Griffin, Ga. man replied, “No, I’m going to discharge you.”

Crawford had witnessed the end stages of cancer before and knew he was not that sick. But, after 19 days in the hospital, Crawford knew something had to be done because his condition was getting worse and worse every day; his urine was black and his stool was gray. Bile duct cancer has an 80 to 90 percent mortality rate and the average patient survives six months.

Fortunately for Crawford, his regular doctor researched his condition and discovered that physicians at Piedmont Hospital were now using a new cholangioscopy technology to diagnose and treat conditions such as obstructions due to mass, strictures and stones within the biliary tract.

Using the new technology that is part of the SpyGlass™ Direct Visualization System, Roshan Shrestha, M.D., therapeutic endoscopist and medical director of liver transplantation, Piedmont Hospital Transplant Services, was able to use a miniature 6,000 pixel fiber optic probe that provides physicians with a direct view of a patient’s bile ducts, overcoming some of the visual challenges of conventional ERCP procedures. Dr. Shrestha was able to visualize the area in Ira Crawford’s liver and diagnose that it was a stone in his bile duct located deep inside the liver – a much better diagnosis than cancer.

As part of the traditional ERCP procedure undergone by almost 500,000 people in the United States annually, physicians use an endoscope – a long, flexible, lighted tube that is inserted through a patient’s mouth and directed through the stomach into the first part of the small intestine – in order to view the entrance to the biliary tract. At this point X-rays may be taken of the inside of the biliary tract. However, these X-rays are two-dimensional black and white images that often do not provide enough information to obtain a complete diagnosis. In Ira Crawford’s case, the doctor was not able to obtain an accurate image, which led to his diagnosis of cancer.

Data shows that up to 60 percent of ERCPs performed using brush cytology or fluoroscopic guidance fine needle aspiration for tissue diagnosis are inconclusive, potentially creating the need for additional testing or repeat procedures. Besides being inconvenient for patients having to return to the hospital, the procedure can take two or more hours and typically requires them not to eat or drink six to eight hours beforehand. At times to make definitive diagnosis, patients undergo unnecessary surgery which carries higher morbidity and even mortality.

The SpyGlass System, developed by Boston Scientific Corporation, provides direct visual access into a patient’s biliary duct to improve diagnosis by helping to identify stones, strictures or mass causing obstructions of the bile duct. A fiber optic probe attaches to a camera head and is inserted through a single-use catheter that can be steered in four directions. This is designed to allow the user to access and inspect all four quadrants of the examination and treatment area. As a result, physicians are able to achieve an improved diagnosis for patients.

Piedmont Hospital is one of just 25 medical centers in the nation to be selected to use the Spyglass System in the second phase of clinical release for the device and is the first of its kind in metro Atlanta.

Direct visualization of the biliary system (cholangioscopy) has been possible for more than 30 years and its benefits are well documented in numerous published studies. However, the technology has not been widely adopted due to the cost and limitations of available devices. Boston Scientific designed the SpyGlass System to help therapeutic endoscopists overcome these hurdles and to make cholangioscopy feasible for a larger number of physicians.

Studies Demonstrate Clinical Benefits of SpyGlass System

A study evaluating the clinical utility and safety of the single-operator SpyGlass System for diagnostic and therapeutic endoscopic procedures in bile ducts was performed at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Thirty-five patients underwent procedures with the SpyGlass System. Results were published in the May 2007 issue of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, demonstrating that a single-operator system proved clinically feasible and provided adequate samples for histologic diagnosis and successfully guided stone therapy. The procedures were deemed safe and well tolerated.

In addition, results of a preclinical study described in the February 2007 issue of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy showed that success rates for access in all quadrants were significantly higher with the SpyGlass System than with conventional systems. In addition, higher success rates were attained using the SpyGlass System to access biopsy targets and to perform simulated biopsies. The SpyGlass System permitted access to 48 of 48 biopsy targets.

“These preliminary studies along with my personal experience on more than a dozen patients suggest that the direct visualization provided by the SpyGlass System offers tremendous advantages that until now have not been possible with traditional ERCP systems,” said Dr. Shrestha. “In addition, the SpyGlass System eliminates a significant clinical staffing requirement, provides the potential to improve the efficiency of the procedure, and will allow us to improve the quality of care to our patients.”

“I can’t recommend Dr. Shrestha highly enough. He saved my life,” said Crawford. “It’s great that he and his team got in there in time because I was in bad, bad shape.”
Community News You Can Use

Federal Agents Seize more than $24 Million in Unapproved New Drugs

Representatives of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service today seized $24.2 million worth of unapproved new drugs from KV Pharmaceutical Company of St. Louis, Mo. Agents acted after United States Attorney Catherine L. Hanaway filed a civil forfeiture suit and obtained a warrant to seize the unapproved new drug products being made by KV Pharmaceutical.

"American consumers are entitled to have safe and effective drugs," said Hanaway.

The seizure followed an inspection of several of the company's plants where FDA investigators found that the company was not complying with an FDA enforcement notice as well as manufacturing unapproved new drugs such as products for cough, cold, topical wound healing, skin bleaching, and gastrointestinal conditions, as well as narcotic drug products.

"The FDA is committed to taking enforcement action against firms that circumvent the drug approval process," said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). "Consumers need to be confident that the drugs and medical products they use are safe and effective, and the FDA will take the necessary measures to ensure safety and effectiveness throughout the lifecycle of the product, including keeping the product from reaching the marketplace."

In a routine inspection of KV Pharmaceutical's facilities in early 2008, the FDA found the company was violating its May 29, 2007, notice (72 FR 29517) requiring companies to stop manufacturing all timed-release drug products containing guaifenesin, including combination drug products in which guaifenesin is in immediate release form, but another ingredient in the combination drug product is in timed-release form, because they are unapproved new drugs. FDA took the action as part of its effort to ensure that all drugs marketed in the United States have the required FDA approval and that they are safe, effective, of good quality, and are appropriately labeled. For products in timed-release form, FDA approval is also necessary to make sure that the product releases its active ingredients at the correct rate. Improperly manufactured timed-release products may release the active ingredients too quickly, too slowly, or not at all, making the product unsafe or ineffective.

The FDA required companies to stop manufacturing the affected products before August 27, 2007, and to stop shipping the products before November 26, 2007. KV Pharmaceutical continued to manufacture and ship these unapproved new drugs after the cessation dates.

The inspection also exposed the company's manufacturing and distribution of other unapproved drug products. Today's action addresses numerous unapproved drug products manufactured and distributed by the company.

The following drug products were seized and will be destroyed:

  • PhenaVent Capsules
  • PhenaVent LA Capsules
  • PhenaVent PED Capsules
  • Ethezyme Papain-Urea Ointment
  • Ethezyme 650 Papain-Urea Ointment
  • Ethezyme 830 Papain-Urea Ointment
  • Hista-Vent DA Tablets
  • Meperidine/Promethazine Capsules
  • Pseudovent Capsules
  • Pseudovent 400 Capsules
  • Pseudovent PED Capsules
  • Tri-Vent DM Syrup
  • Tri-Vent DPC Syrup
  • Hydro-Tussin DM Liquid
  • Hydro-Tussin CBX Syrup
  • Hydro-Tussin DHC Syrup
  • Hydro- Tussin EXP Syrup
  • Hydro-Tussin HD Syrup
  • Hyoscyamine Sulfate Sublingual Tablets
  • Hydroquinone 4% Cream
  • Hydroquinone 4% Cream with Sunscreen
  • Bromfenex Extended Release Capsules
  • Bromfenex PD Extended Release Capsules

The seized drugs had been held under embargo by the state of Missouri. Since the time of the embargo, KV Pharmaceutical has been cooperating with FDA officials.

"The FDA will take action against companies that continue to manufacture or market an unapproved product after the marketing or distribution cessation date," said Deborah M. Autor, director of the FDA's Office of Compliance within CDER. "When a company does not heed a cessation date relating to a specific product, the FDA will take enforcement action relating to the company's other unapproved drugs."

In June 2006, the FDA issued a guidance document titled, "Marketed Unapproved Drugs—Compliance Policy Guide (CPG)." This CPG makes clear that companies may not market drugs that require approval without first establishing, through applications for approval, that the products are safe and effective.

The FDA encourages consumers who may have these products to contact their health care professional about FDA-approved treatments and discard these products.

Note to People with Scarred and Stiffened Lungs: Monitor Your Sleep Before Severe Fatigue Sets In

Family, friends and neighbors remember Lisa Sandler Spaeth as an active mother of two in Potomac, Md., with a lot on the go, juggling her son’s baseball games and her daughter’s horseback-riding lessons with numerous committee obligations, organizing women’s activities at her local synagogue. Add to this Spaeth’s thriving home business turned wholesale supplier - making custom hair accessories for children - which she founded with her mother.

But Spaeth was also diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a hard-to-treat disease that progressively damages the lungs and starves the body of oxygen. For two years after her diagnosis, until her death in May 2007, at age 44, Spaeth was beset by fatigue. Her energy levels sank as her lungs deteriorated. Breathing became difficult, and she could no longer attend many of the sporting events, trade fairs and women’s groups that filled her life.

It is with people like Spaeth in mind that researchers at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere have found what is likely to be the first evidence linking the extreme fatigue in the lung-scarring disease, which has no known cause, to the poor quality of sleep that results - as much as a 25 percent loss in body-rejuvenating R.E.M. sleep. And they have also gauged the detrimental effects this has on people’s daily lives, nearly halving test scores used to assess physical and mental quality of life.

In a report appearing this month in the journal Chest, senior study investigator and pulmonologist Sonye Danoff, M.D., Ph.D., who treated Spaeth, found more than twice the amount of nighttime sleep disturbances and double the number of daytime episodes of drowsiness among 41 men and women with so-called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis than in people with healthy lungs.

“Physicians should strongly consider monitoring people with this scarring lung disease for sleep disorders as part of their standard care, because poor sleep has a profound effect on their quality of life,” says Danoff, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The latest study results back up previous research by Danoff and other sleep experts at Johns Hopkins, which showed that 18 of 22 people with fibrosed lungs had problems breathing while asleep. The majority of them dropped out of R.E.M. sleep during the night, losing 25 percent of total R.E.M. sleep time.

It is during the R.E.M. period that rapid eye movements occur (hence the name), that people dream and that the body recovers from the previous day and builds up energy for the next.

Pulmonary fibrosis makes people highly vulnerable to sleep problems, Danoff says, because they often breathe twice as fast to supply the body with oxygen. And just as breathing and other body functions naturally slow down at the onset of R.E.M. sleep, these people who depend on a higher rate of breathing are constantly being pushed to wake up from a lack of oxygen.

“Essentially,” she adds, “the body’s internal alarms go off as people enter the most rejuvenating part of sleep. And when people don’t get a good night’s sleep, they cannot function normally the next day. It’s a slippery slope that gets progressively worse over time.”

Also in this latest Johns Hopkins study are survey results assessing quality of life and quality of sleep, which showed that people with stiffened lungs and sleep problems have 40 percent lower scores in physical activities compared to the general U.S. population. Rated activities included basic tasks, such as going to the mailbox and walking to the car. Mental and social activities, such as carrying on a conversation with a store clerk or telephoning friends and family, were reduced 48 percent.
Sleep quality was assessed on a scale comprising 36 different sleep measurements, such as the length of time it took to fall asleep and overall time spent sleeping.

Moreover, the team’s analysis showed that sleep problems could not be predicted by other demographic factors, such as age, gender, race or weight. Nor were they linked, researchers say, with other lung function and more noticeable disease symptoms, including shortness of breath and cough.

“Because there is so much about pulmonary fibrosis that we cannot yet fix, we need to focus on what we can fix while we wait for research to catch up with treatments that can prevent or reverse the disease,” says Danoff.

Current treatments for pulmonary fibrosis are limited to steroids and other immune-system-lowering drugs that help slow down lung tissue deterioration as the thin walls of the air sacs stiffen and lose capacity to freely expand and contract.

More than 200,000 Americans suffer from pulmonary fibrosis, whose cause remains unknown. And the lung disease kills nearly 40,000 each year.

“If we had been able to treat Lisa Spaeth’s fatigue from poor quality sleep, then she might have had more time to lead her life as fully as she had been prior to getting sick,” says Danoff.

Despite Spaeth’s death, her zest for life carries on. Her mother, Froma Sandler, maintains the business. And through the encouragement of family and friends, more than a thousand people have donated to medical research in Spaeth’s honor. The largest-ever contributions arrived in May, just prior to the first anniversary of Spaeth’s death, when the Maryland-based Robert M. Fisher Memorial Foundation pledged $2 million to Johns Hopkins to help fund Danoff’s future studies into pulmonary disease.

“This research funding will lay the groundwork for a more consolidated and comprehensive look at the many factors that may improve and extend the lives of patients with pulmonary fibrosis: from rehabilitation of the lungs to the development and testing of new medications to offset losses in quality of life from fatigue,” says Danoff.

Danoff plans to use some of the funding to support studies that monitor patients with pulmonary fibrosis for problems in sleep patterns, especially in deep-sleep R.E.M. patterns, to target for treatment.

Another phase of research, she says, involves testing new devices to support breathing during sleep and to see if these devices improve quality sleep time and abate fatigue.

Funding for this latest study was provided by a fellowship grant from the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians, which also publishes the journal Chest, and by The Johns Hopkins Hospital’s General Clinical Research Center.

In addition to Danoff, other Hopkins researchers involved in these studies, conducted solely in Balimore, were Vidya Krishnan, M.D.; Meredith McCormack, M.D., M.H.S.; Stephen Mathai, M.D., M.H.S.; Maureen Horton, M.D.; and Nancy Collop, M.D. Additional assistance was provided by Shikhar Agarwal, M.D., from the Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health; Brittany Richardson, from the University of Maryland; and Albert Polito, M.D., from Mercy Medical Center.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bob Barr Criticizes Barack Obama Plan to Provide Health Insurance for Illegal Aliens

“Neither Sen. Barack Obama nor Sen. John McCain wants to talk about immigration, but the system is broken,” says Bob Barr, the Libertarian Party candidate for president. “Unfortunately, neither of them wants to take the tough steps necessary to secure America’s borders and institute a realistic policy to cut illegal immigration.”

An example of the problem is Sen. Obama’s oft-stated promise to “give health insurance to 47 million Americans who are now without coverage.” Of course, “Sen. Obama doesn’t plan on giving them coverage. He plans on making the taxpayers give them coverage. There’s a big difference,” notes Barr.

But there’s an even more fundamental issue. Approximately one-quarter of those persons who are uninsured are in America illegally. “It’s not fair to expect U.S. taxpayers to pay for health insurance for the citizens of another nation. America’s bloated welfare state is expensive enough, and even after recent reforms it still creates a disincentive to work. Handing out insurance to people who have come to America illegally will encourage even greater illegal immigration,” Barr explains. “And that, in turn, will push up government health care expenditures, creating a vicious cycle of more and more spending and more and more illegal immigration.”

“Instead of increasing the reward for violating the law and America’s borders, the federal government should move in the other direction. It must stop requiring hospital emergency rooms to provide free care for illegal aliens and the courts must stop forcing states to provide free schooling for the children of illegal aliens. This means changing the law and perhaps even the Constitution, but until we do so the government will continue to create a taxpayer-funded draw for illegal immigration,” says Barr.

“There is much to do to construct a rational immigration policy. We must start by securing the border. We should adopt a constitutional amendment, if necessary, to ensure that the children of those here illegally do not automatically become citizens; such a privilege should be accorded only those who are born in this country of parents in this country lawfully. We should also allow more highly-skilled legal immigrants, emphasizing economic productivity over family ties,” Barr explains.

“Most important, we should stop paying people to come here illegally. No more free health care. No more free education. And certainly no free health insurance,” emphasizes Barr. “It’s wrong to make Americans pay for medical treatment of other people. In fact, it’s completely counterproductive and illogical to do so. Eliminating incentives for illegal immigration will be one of the top priorities of the Barr Administration.”

Barr represented the 7th District of Georgia in the U. S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003, where he served as a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, as Vice-Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, and as a member of the Committee on Financial Services. Prior to his congressional career, Barr was appointed by President Reagan to serve as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, and also served as an official with the CIA.

Since leaving Congress, Barr has been practicing law and has teamed up with groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the American Conservative Union to actively advocate every American citizen’s right to privacy and other civil liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Along with this, Bob is committed to helping elect leaders who will strive for smaller government, lower taxes and abundant individual freedom.

FDA Approves First Generic Divalproex Sodium to Treat Seizures, Migraine Headaches and Bipolar Disorder

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today approved the first generic versions of Depakote delayed-release tablets (divalproex sodium). Depakote is approved by the FDA for the treatment of seizures, bipolar disorder and migraine headaches.

"Generic drugs undergo a rigorous scientific review to ensure that they will provide the patient with the same amount of high quality, safe and effective drug as the name brand product," said Gary J. Buehler, director of the FDA's Office of Generic Drugs. "This approval provides an additional treatment option for patients who suffer from epilepsy, bipolar disorder and migraines."

Generic divalproex sodium will have the same safety warnings as Depakote, including a Boxed Warning that cautions about the risk of liver damage (hepatotoxicity), including fatalities, and pancreatitis, or an inflamed pancreas, including fatal cases. The Boxed Warning also highlights the risk of birth defects (teratogenicity), including neural tube defects.

The following firms have received approval to market divalproex sodium delayed-release tablets: Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Mumbai, India; Genpharm Inc., Ontario, Canada; Nu-Pharm Inc., Ontario, Canada; Upsher-Smith Laboratories, Maple Grove, Minn.; Sandoz Inc., Broomfield, Colo.; TEVA Pharmaceuticals USA, North Wales, Penn.; Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Hyderabad, India; and Lupin Limited, Mumbai, India.

American Cancer Society, National Medical Association Announce Collaboration to Reduce Cancer Disparities

PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Cancer Society and the National Medical Association today announced a three-year strategic collaboration intended to educate the general public, physicians, and other health professionals about best practices to achieve optimal outcomes in cancer prevention and early detection practices, and treatment among ethnic minority and underserved population groups. This collaboration represents a significant commitment by both organizations to target and eliminate cancer disparities specifically among racial and ethnic minorities by reducing inequalities in access to information and screening services, quality care and treatment, and end-of-life support.

Racial and ethnic minorities can often face numerous obstacles to receiving equal access to quality cancer prevention, early detection and treatment services. Many lack health insurance, live in rural or inner-city communities, have low incomes, and experience language barriers, racial bias and stereotyping. They also tend to receive lower quality health care than whites even when insurance status, income, age and severity of conditions are comparable.

"Promoting increased awareness and understanding of cancer prevention, early detection and treatment to help reduce health disparities is a nationwide priority for the American Cancer Society, said Otis W. Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer, American Cancer Society. "Collaborations with pre-eminent organizations such as the National Medical Association are central to the Society's strategy to reach racial and ethnic minorities with appropriate health information."

"Strategic partnerships with organizations like the American Cancer Society amplify the National Medical Association's ability to touch and impact lives through community action and healthcare provider education," said Nelson L. Adams, III, M.D., president, National Medical Association.

Initial goals for the collaboration include developing and distributing culturally relevant consumer and professional materials that focus on prevention, early detection, and treatment of breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer, as well as proper nutrition and physical activity. The effort will also target faculty and alumni of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, NMA clinical specialty sections, regions, states and local members, community-based organization leaders in the African-American and Hispanic/Latino communities, and large African-American and Hispanic/Latino church congregations nationwide.

This year's collaborative activities also feature a joint cancer symposium called "Collaboration in Addressing Cancer Disparities" for health professionals attending the 2008 National Medical Association Annual Convention and Scientific Assembly, July 26 to 31, 2008. This symposium will take place on Tuesday, July 29 from 9a.m. to 11a.m. ET at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia. More than 5,000 health professionals, including physicians, scientists, nurses, medical students, dietitians, and others are expected to attend. The program will provide an overview of the cancer burden facing ethnic and racial minorities and special population groups, its impact on the health of those groups, current progress being made in cancer care, and a discussion of disparities in cancer care and recommendations for addressing them.

Early-Life Nutrition May Be Associated With Adult Intellectual Functioning

• Adults who had improved nutrition in early childhood may score better on intellectual tests.
• Poor nutrition during childhood is associated with poor cognitive performance in adulthood.

ATLANTA -- Adults who had improved nutrition in early childhood may score better on intellectual tests, regardless of the number of years they attended school, according to a report in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

"Schooling is a key component of the development of literacy, reading comprehension and cognitive functioning, and thus of human capital," says Aryeh D. Stein, PhD, MPH, an associate professor of global health at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health.

Research also suggests that poor nutrition in early life is associated with poor performance on cognitive (thinking, learning and memory) tests in adulthood.

"Therefore, both nutrition and early-childhood intellectual enrichment are likely to be important determinants of intellectual functioning in adulthood," Stein says.

Between 1969 and 1977, Guatemalan children in four villages participated in a trial of nutritional supplementation. Through the trial, some were exposed to atole--a protein-rich enhanced nutritional supplement--while others were exposed to fresco, a sugar-sweetened beverage. Stein and colleagues analyzed data from intellectual testing and interviews conducted between 2002 and 2004, when 1,448 surviving participants (68.4 percent) were an average of 32 years old.

Individuals exposed to atole between birth and age 24 months scored higher on intellectual tests of reading comprehension and cognitive functioning in adulthood than those not exposed to atole or who were exposed to it at other ages. This association remained significant when the researchers controlled for other factors associated with intellectual functioning, including years of schooling.

"Nutrition in early life is associated with markers of child development in this population, and exposure to atole for most of the first three years of life was associated with an increase of 0.4 years in attained schooling, with the association being stronger for females (1.2 years of schooling)," Stein says.

Thus, schooling might be in the causal pathway between early childhood nutrition and adult intellectual functioning, says Stein. The data, which suggest an effect of exposure to an enhanced nutritional intervention in early life that is independent of any effect of schooling, provide additional evidence in support of intervention strategies that link early investments in children to continued investments in early-life nutrition and in schooling.


In addition to Stein, study authors were Meng Wang, MS, Ann DiGirolamo, PhD, Usha Ramakrishnan, PhD, Kathryn Yount, PhD, and Reynaldo Martorell, PhD, all of the Hubert Department of Global Health, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University; and Ruben Grajeda, MD, and Manuel Ramirez-Zea, MD, PhD of the Unit of Public Policies, Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama.

This study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and from the National Science Foundation. The National Institutes of Health, the Thrasher Fund and the Nestle Foundation have funded the work of the INCAP Longitudinal Study since its inception. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

Reference: Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008;162[7]:612-618

Transplantation of Kidneys from Black Cardiac-Death Donors Provide Black Recipients with the Best Long-Term Survival

Contrary to prevailing assumptions, Johns Hopkins researchers have shown that kidneys recovered from black donors who died from cardiac death offer the best survival rate for black recipients of a deceased-donor kidney.

This discovery, released online this week and appearing in the October 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, challenges the long-held belief that kidneys from white brain-death donors offers the best deceased-donor transplant survival rate for either black or white recipients.

“Our findings indicate that increased use of kidneys from cardiac-death donors could help reduce the organ shortage and improve outcomes for black kidney transplant recipients,” says lead author Jayme Locke, M.D., M.P.H., of the Department of Surgery at Johns Hopkins.

Locke and a team of Johns Hopkins researchers examined the outcomes of more than 25,000 black adults who received a deceased-donor kidney transplant between 1993 and 2006.

Results showed that black recipients who received a kidney from a black cardiac-death donor had a 70 percent reduction in the risk of kidney loss and a 59 percent reduction in risk for death when compared to black recipients who received a kidney from a white brain-death donor.

“Our data is consistent with the previous observation that black recipients seem to do better with kidneys from white brain-death donors than they do with kidneys from black brain-death donors or white cardiac-death donors, however, the fact that black recipients have the best outcomes with kidneys from black cardiac-death donors is significant,” says co-lead author Daniel Warren, Ph.D., of the Department of Surgery at Johns Hopkins.

He says that the exact mechanisms responsible for racial differences in outcomes after kidney transplantation are not known, however, the results suggest that the genetic background of the donor and recipient likely have a significant impact on long-term outcomes.

“We believe that an improved understanding of the molecular consequences of cardiac and brain death is critical to improving outcomes for all kidney transplant recipients and warrants further investigation,” he added.

There are currently more than 70,000 Americans waiting for kidney transplants. Only about 600 deceased-donor kidneys donated after cardiac death are currently used for transplantation versus 7,000 donated after brain death.

This discrepancy is due in part to the belief that kidneys that are exposed to cardiac death generally suffer more damage than kidneys that are exposed to brain death.

“Our results show this is not always true, and that is significant news for all patients waiting for a kidney,” says Locke.

Other researchers who worked on this study from Johns Hopkins include Robert Montgomery, M.D., Ph.D.; Andrew Cameron, M.D.; Joseph Melancon, M.D.; Dorry Segev, M.D.; Andrew Singer, M.D., Ph.D.; Christopher Simpkins, M.D., M.P.H.; Andrea Zachary, Ph.D.; Francesca Dominici, Ph.D.; Mary Leffell, Ph.D.; and Deborah McRann, B.S.N.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Chemotherapy and Radiation After Surgery Prolongs Life for Pancreatic Cancer Patients

Pancreatic cancer patients treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation after surgery survive approximately six months longer than those receiving surgery alone, Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center scientists report.

Previous clinical trials conducted in the 1980s and 90s in the United States established the benefit of postoperative chemotherapy and radiation. However, experts still disagree on whether to administer the treatments because results from European studies suggest the opposite effect — a decrease in survival.

“Some physicians might avoid chemotherapy and radiation if a benefit in survival is uncertain. However, without proof, I believe it is a disservice to these patients if we eliminate chemotherapy and radiation,” says radiation oncologist Joseph Herman, M.D., who led the study.

Herman and his team sought to put the issue to rest by reviewing records of 616 Johns Hopkins patients whose pancreatic cancers were surgically removed between Aug. 30, 1993, and Feb. 28, 2005. The researchers compared the survival of 345 of the patients who had only surgery with 271 who were then treated with 5-fluorouracil (FU)-based chemotherapy agents and modern types of radiation.

Patients receiving the combined chemotherapy and radiation experienced an improved median survival when compared with patients who did not (21.2 vs. 14.4 months). Two-year survival also improved (43.9 percent vs. 31.9 percent), as did five-year survival (20.1 percent vs. 15.4 percent). Results were published in the July 20 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

“The take-home message of this study is that patients who received combined chemotherapy and radiation appeared to have better survival than patients who have surgery alone, suggesting that it is safe and beneficial if it’s done carefully and properly,” says Herman, assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology and Molecular Radiation Sciences.

He cautions that this is a retrospective study and that selection bias was possible as they may have selected out those patients who are healthy enough to receive the chemotherapy and radiation. “Regardless, it is still encouraging to say that many of these patients had very aggressive cancer and a lot of them are still alive several years after they received this combination therapy,” says Herman.

Because data to assess treatment toxicity were unavailable, Herman and his study team focused on survival instead. He says the majority of patients were able to complete the therapy, suggesting that they tolerated it well.

The study also identified risk factors to determine those patients most likely to benefit from combined chemotherapy and radiation. Patients who clearly benefited included those with lymph-node-positive disease and those with tumors larger than 3 centimeters (about 1.2 inches). Patients with aggressive tumors also benefited, as did those with margin-positive disease, where the surgeon was unable to remove most of the tumor.

Groups were similar with respect to tumor size, nodal status and margin status, but those receiving combined chemotherapy and radiation were younger (median 64 vs. 70 years) and less likely to present with another serious disease.

“The survival benefit is still seen regardless of high-risk tumor characteristics and after controlling for age, other concurrent diseases and surgical complications,” Herman says.

Patients in this study received about five and a half weeks of combined chemotherapy and radiation, which is referred to as concurrent therapy. The therapy begins about four to eight weeks after surgery.

Most patients also received continuous-infusion 5-FU chemotherapy. This is a form of chemotherapy that enhances the ability of radiation to damage DNA, the building block of the rapidly dividing cancer cells. Patients take four weeks off at the conclusion of their initial therapy, and then may receive maintenance chemotherapy, as prescribed, in the weeks and months ahead.

Pancreatic cancer strikes about five out of 100,000 people each year in the United States. Because pancreatic cancer often has no symptoms in its early stages, cancerous tumors often go unnoticed until the cancer advances and individuals become ill. Prognosis is poor for long-term survival, with only about 5 percent of pancreatic cancer patients surviving five years after their diagnosis.

The most aggressive and effective form of treatment for pancreatic cancer is a complicated surgery commonly known as the Whipple procedure (used in this study), in which the gallbladder, common bile duct, part of the duodenum, and the head of the pancreas are generally removed. Johns Hopkins Hospital has performed more than 3,000 Whipple surgeries over the past 25 years.

The study was funded by the Johns Hopkins Department of Radiation Oncology and Molecular Radiation Sciences.

Michael Swartz, Charles Hsu, Jordan Winter, Timothy Pawlik, Elizabeth Sugar, Ray Robinson, Daniel Laheru, Elizabeth Jaffee, Ralph Hruban, Kurtis Campbell, Christopher Wolfgang, Fariba Asrari, Ross Donehower, Manuel Hidalgo, Luis Diaz, Charles Yeo, John Cameron, Richard Schulick and Ross Abrams, also from Johns Hopkins, assisted with this study.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Piedmont Fayette Hospital Names VP of Medical Affairs

Piedmont Fayette Hospital (PFH) is pleased to announce the promotion of Frederick E. Willms, M.D., FRCPC, FACP to the position of vice president of medical affairs and chief quality officer.

Dr. Willms has been on staff at Piedmont Fayette for 10 years, serving in many roles including two terms as chief of medicine and a PFH hospitalist. He has served as assistant professor of medicine at Dalhousie University and currently is a peer reviewer for the state of Georgia’s Medical Board.

“I am excited and looking forward to continuing the many quality and patient safety initiatives begun by Dr. Mitchell,” Dr. Willms said. “I also hope to cultivate physician relationship building at Piedmont Fayette.”

Dr. Willms graduated Magna cum Laude in 1976 and earned his medical degree from the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. He completed a rotating internship at the University of Toronto, Toronto Western Hospital and then completed his residency at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia where he served as chief resident. He is a fellow of the American College of Physicians and Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.

He lives in the Fayette community with Wendy, his wife of 27 years.

Emory Physicians Assistant Student Only Georgian to Provide Care at Olympics

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has selected Harris Patel, MA, ATC, as part of its 62-member medical staff. Patel is a certified athletic trainer (ATC) currently enrolled in the Physicians Assistant Program at Emory University School of Medicine.

Patel will leave on July 28 to spend five weeks with the athletes, beginning with training camp in Dalian and then on to Beijing. Patel is the only medical professional from Georgia assigned to the USOC medical staff.

He began his career as an athletic trainer in 1998 and has been working with premier athletes since he was an undergraduate at the University of Georgia.

Patel's responsibilities at the games will include prepping U.S. athletes for practice or competition and evaluating injuries to determine the best course of action for the welfare of the athlete. He will also be involved with implementing treatment and rehabilitation programs.

"We are on call for the athletes 24/7 because they depend on us as medical professionals," says Patel. "We have to be on our feet for any medical emergency both on and off the field."

Patel's experience throughout graduate school and beyond is an impressive mixture of working on the medical staff of NFL football teams and spending his summers working with Olympic athletes.

His relationship with the USOC began in 2005 when he was selected to go to Sherbroke, Canada. for the Youth World Championships in Athletics. He interned with the USOC medical staff in Colorado Springs in 2004, working with all varieties of U.S. athletes, and traveled to Helsinki, Finland, for the 2005 World Championships in Athletics. In 2006 he traveled to Birmingham, England, for a track and field meet, and then on to the 2007 Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"I sometimes have to look back and wonder how I got all those opportunities," he says. "I have been very blessed and very fortunate."

Patel graduates from Emory's Physician Assistant program in December 2008. He plans to stay in the field of primary care and sports medicine. He says,"God has a plan" for him and he will follow that plan -- after he passes his boards.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Scientists Identify How Gastric Reflux May Trigger Asthma

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center appear to have solved at least a piece of a puzzle that has mystified physicians for years: why so many patients with asthma also suffer from GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Clinicians first noted a relationship between the two diseases in the mid-1970s. Since then, studies have shown that anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of patients with asthma experience some aspect of GERD. But can GERD cause asthma, or, is it the other way around? Perhaps there is some shared mechanism at the root of both disorders causing them to arise together. Physicians could make a case for each scenario, but until now, the exact nature of the relationship was not clear.

Working in laboratory experiments with mice, Dr. Shu Lin, an assistant professor of surgery and immunology at Duke, discovered that inhaling tiny amounts of stomach fluid that back up into the esophagus – a hallmark of GERD – produces changes in the immune system that can drive the development of asthma.

In the experiments, researchers inserted miniscule amounts of gastric fluid into the lungs of mice (mimicking the human process of micro-aspiration, or breathing in tiny amounts) over a period of eight weeks. They compared these animals' immune systems with those of mice that were exposed to allergens but not the gastric fluid.

The immune systems of the two sets of mice responded very differently. Those that had the gastric fluid in their lungs developed what researchers call a T-helper type 2 response, a type of immune system reaction characteristic of asthma. The other mice responded in a more balanced manner, mounting an immune reaction consisting of both T-helper type 1 and T-helper type 2 responses.

"This is the first experimental evidence in a controlled, laboratory setting linking these two very common conditions in humans," says Lin, the senior author of the study published online in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation. "These data suggest that chronic micro-aspiration of gastric fluid can drive the immune system toward an asthmatic response."

"This does not mean that everyone with GERD is going to develop asthma, by any means," says William Parker, an assistant professor of surgery at Duke and a co-author of the study. "But it may mean that people with GERD may be more likely to develop asthma. If there is an upside to this, it is that developing GERD is something we can pretty much treat and control."

Parker says poor diet, a lack of exercise and obesity all contribute to the development of GERD, and that rising rates of reflux disease are part of a "perfect storm" of environmental and behavioral factors driving escalating rates of asthma, particularly in Western cultures. "People should avoid the risk factors for GERD. We strongly believe that the rise in asthma, particularly among adults in the country, is in large measure due to lifestyle choices that can be changed."

Lin and Parker agree that much more work needs to be done to fully understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the relationship between reflux disease and asthma, but both feel their study offers new directions for developing additional treatment options for both problems.

Lin says patients who already have GERD can minimize gastric reflux – and thereby lessen their chances of developing asthma – by following a few simple guidelines: Eat smaller meals and eat several hours before going to bed; raise the head of the bed a few inches; maintain a healthy weight; and limit fatty goods, coffee, tea, caffeine and alcohol – they can relax the esophageal sphincter and make reflux more likely.

Funding for the study came from the Society of American Gastrointestinal Endoscopic Surgeons Research Grant and the Parks Protocol Memorial Fund.

Additional co-authors from Duke include lead author Andrew Barbas, Tacy Downing, Keki Balsara, Hung-Enn Tan, Gregory Rubinstein, Zoie Holzknecht, Bradley Collins and R. Duane Davis.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Diabetes Experts Recommend One-Two Punch for Treating Patients with Pre-Diabetes

BUSINESS WIRE --For the first time, a consensus of diabetes and metabolic disorder experts have recommended a comprehensive treatment regimen for patients with pre-diabetes. The recommendations call for specific guidelines on both lifestyle, and pharmaceutical intervention where appropriate. The recommendations are made in a Consensus Statement released this morning by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE).

Pre-diabetes is a condition defined by elevated fasting glucose levels or impaired glucose tolerance. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 56 million Americans currently have the condition, which leaves patients at risk, not only for developing type 2 diabetes, but also for cardiovascular complications. This is an extension of the effort to recognize and treat type 2 diabetes earlier and more aggressively.

However, at this time, there are no pharmacologic therapies that have been approved by the FDA for prevention of the conversion of pre-diabetes to diabetes. Thats why the expert panel has recommended a two-pronged approach to treating pre-diabetes. The first is intensive lifestyle management to prevent the progression to type 2 diabetes.

As individuals and as a society, we need to address those forces which are creating the epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and pre-diabetes, said Yehuda Handlesman, MD, FACP, FACE, Treasurer of AACE and Medical Director of the Metabolic Institute of America. We understand the difficulties in implementing solutions, but as an association of endocrinologists we are committed to supporting community and national efforts in every way we can.

The recommendation calls for patients to adhere to the guidelines set forth in the Diabetes Prevention Program, established by the United States government.

Although lifestyle can clearly modify the progression of patients towards overt diabetes, it may not be sufficient, said Alan J. Garber, MD, PhD, FACE, Professor of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, and Chairman of the Consensus Conference. Medications may well be required, particularly in high risk groups.

The second approach is to prevent the development of cardiovascular complications, and to help those patients where lifestyle modifications have been insufficient to modify cardiovascular risk factors. This requires cardiovascular risk reduction medications for abnormal blood pressure and cholesterol independent of glucose control medications.

The data show that there is a spectrum of severity, with the most severely affected approaching the risks of people with diagnosed type 2 diabetes, said Daniel Einhorn, MD, FACP, FACE, Vice President of AACE and Medical Director of the Scripps Whittier Institute for Diabetes in La Jolla, CA. In these highest risk individuals, who represent a minority, pharmacologic strategies may be appropriate if intensive lifestyle therapies fail. Regardless, all individuals at risk for diabetes should be aware of the level of their risk factors and be prepared to take action.

While the number of people with pre-diabetes in the United States exceeds 56 million, most patients with the condition have not been diagnosed. People are considered high risk if they have near diabetic levels of blood glucose, hypertension, or abnormal lipid profiles. These patients should consider working with their doctor to monitor their status.

The preliminary publication of the Consensus Statement is available at The final document will be published later this year in Endocrine Practice, the Journal of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Challenging Times Call for Skilled Leaders

Communicating effectively, developing powers of persuasion and negotiating skills are the key topics of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses’, Inc. (AAOHN) Conference for Leadership Advancement (CLA) September 10 -12, 2008 at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.

“Becoming a person of influence, communicating persuasively and negotiating in a manner that is beneficial to you, your colleagues and your clients is vital to career advancement and professional development,” said Richard Kowalski, president of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses. “The conference helps health professionals acquire strong leadership skills to build lasting relationships and successful careers.”

Attendees will also have the opportunity to gain insight about key indicators that power the U.S. economy, factors that affect the viability of industry and business, and the national economic impact of healthcare costs. The ability to monitor economic trends will improve business and personal decision-making skills for healthcare professionals.

“The faculty selected for the 2008 CLA is a dynamic group of business consultants, educators and speaking professionals highly skilled in leadership training and management development,” said Kowalski.

Educational sessions will be presented by content experts, educators and nationally-recognized speakers and authors, which include Atlanta author Jean Houston Shore, former CNN news anchor Marilyn Ringo and professional trainer and educator Dr. Merle Strangway. Closing the conference will be David Nour who will introduce attendees to the world of Relationship Economics® – the art and science of relationships and conceptual definitions of Relationship Currency®, Reputation Capital® and Professional Net Worth®.

This year's conference highlights include Maximizing Your Influence; Communicating Persuasively; Leading a Volunteer Organization; Win-Win Negotiations; Econo-Savvy; and Relationship Economics® The Art & Science of Relationships.

Registration is open to both AAOHN members and non-members. Nursing professionals can earn up to 12.75 CNE and CCM contact hours. Register by August 8 and you will be eligible to win free accommodations for CLA and other rewards. Please visit or call 770-455-7757.

'Stuffy Nose' Mouse: A Promise to Help Treat 31 Million with Sinusitis

Mice with inflamed nasal tissue being tested at a Johns Hopkins laboratory may be unable to tell if something smells bad or good, but their sensory deficit is nothing to turn up a nose at.

That is because, their developers say, the mice’s reversible loss of one of their key senses, which is essential to tasting food or sensing danger from foul odors, sets them apart from all other mice and binds them to an estimated 31 million Americans living with chronic sinusitis, a persistent inflammation of the tissue that lines the nasal and sinus cavities. Add to this group, millions of people with other disorders that affect smell, including viral infections, head traumas, tumors, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

“A sense of smell in good working order is essential to our quality of life, and these genetically engineered mice give us the first real animal model for better understanding, treating and preventing people from suffering a loss of olfactory function due to sinonasal inflammation,” says sinusitis expert Andrew Lane, M.D., who led the team that developed the olfactory-compromised mice.

“And because we can turn on and off the inflammation in these mice, we really can mimic how the most overlooked and very disabling aspect of sinusitis, the loss of smell, or anosmia, plays out in people,” says Lane, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Lane will cite smell and sinus tissue data from his studies with mice, and he will compare them to other clinical data, when he introduces the inflammation-induced, anosmic mice to fellow experts July 22 during a presentation at the XV International Symposium on Olfaction and Taste, in San Francisco, Calif.

“Until now, the lack of realistic animal models for each of the key symptoms of chronic inflammation in the nasal tissue - such as the growth of nasal polyps, the loss of the sense of smell, swollen sinus tissue, or clogged and runny noses - has slowed sinusitis research and hindered our search for therapies,” says Lane, director of the Johns Hopkins sinus center, where he treats hundreds of patients with the condition.

New therapies are needed, he says, as an alternative to long-term steroids, which block the inflammatory chemical pathway but also have debilitating side effects, including loss of bone density, cataracts in the eye and weight gain.

Another key advantage to the new sinusitis mouse, he points out, is that it can be more easily studied than human olfactory tissue, which is surgically difficult to cut out from deep inside the skull and because the tissue sits dangerously close to the brain.

Johns Hopkins scientists began their quest for a “stuffy nose” mouse with inflammation-produced anosmia in 2002.

Their first steps were performed in the lab, where researchers genetically modified developing mouse cells to breed a family that could secrete key cytokine proteins only in the olfactory, uppermost part of the nose. An overproduction of cytokines, which are better known for their role in the body’s immune response to disease-causing pathogens, are a telltale chemical signature in sinusitis.

Lane’s team focused its efforts on one of hundreds of cytokines, specifically, tumor necrosis factor alpha, or TNF?, because of its many links to sinusitis. TNF? is overactive during all kinds of inflammation, and the chemical is also known to accelerate olfactory nerve cell turnover. Unlike most other kinds of nervous tissue, the olfactory type can grow back, an evolutionary adaptation to the constant shedding of skin cells that line the nasal cavity.

Researchers first injected mouse egg cells with a gene for TNF? and a control system so that cells with the gene would secrete the cytokine on demand and only if activated.

In a second set of mice, Lane’s team planned to activate the control system only in olfactory tissue, by genetically implanting the controls to another gene, called CYP2G1, which is produced only in the mouse nose, specifically in its nourishing sustentacular cells that sit between nasal nerve cells.

Lane says the system had to be “nasally specific,” so that secretion of TNF? occurred in the mouse, much like it does in sinusitis in humans.

After breeding the two groups of mice to get their animal test model, of which there are 20 at any given time, scientists then turned on TNF? production by stimulating the sustentacular cells with tetracycline, an antibiotic trigger that was added to the mice’s drinking water. The system remained off when no tetracycline was added.

To make sure the model worked, mice were fed the drugged drinking water for nearly two months, and samples of olfactory tissue were tested weekly for any sense of smell in response to various odors.

Results showed that sense of smell, as gauged by minute electrical currents in olfactory tissue, dropped progressively, by half (50 percent) within two weeks, and stopping completely after six. When tissue was viewed under microscope, white blood cells were visible, a telltale sign of inflammation. Olfactory nerve cells had nearly disappeared.

But when researchers stopped the drug-induced sinusitis, olfactory nerve cells rebounded and grew back within a couple of weeks, “proving that what we have is a mouse with reversible olfactory loss due to inflammation, which should speed up our learning more about the disease and testing new therapies,” says Lane. “Ultimately, we hope to develop treatments that allow the sense of smell to recover, even in the presence of a hostile inflammatory environment due to sinusitis.”

His team’s next steps will be to test different cytokines, either alone or in combination, to clarify their roles in the loss of smell in sinonasal inflammation.

Future studies are also planned to monitor the effects of current steroid therapies on mouse olfactory tissue, in the hope of modifying or bolstering the treatments and speeding up delivery of these medications to inflamed tissue.

Another phase of research, he says, involves testing other anti-inflammatory drugs, such as infliximab (Remicade), which is used to treat arthritis, to see if they can spur growth of olfactory neurons during sinusitis.

Lane also plans to add more sinusitis features to the animal model, including progressive swelling of sinus tissue and rhinitis.

Funding for this study, conducted solely at Hopkins, was provided by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, a member of the National Institutes of Health.

Besides Lane, other Hopkins researchers involved in this study were Justin Turner, M.D.; Lindsey May, B.S.; and Randall Reed, Ph.D.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Michael J. Fox Foundation to Support Parkinson’s Researcher at Emory

Stephen Traynelis, PhD, professor of pharmacology at Emory University School of Medicine, has earned an award from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research for his laboratory’s work on developing new therapeutic strategies for treating Parkinson’s disease.

Traynelis' laboratory was one of nine research teams that will receive grants under the Foundation's Target Validation 2008 initiative, with his team getting $100,000 per year for two years.

Using cultured cells, Traynelis and his co-workers have identified compounds that may be able to reduce symptoms and slow disease progression. The purpose of the award is to support further studies of the compounds’ activities in neurons and animal models of Parkinson’s disease.

Traynelis’ team has been searching for compounds that selectively inhibit one type of glutamate receptor, the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. This receptor binds and responds to a chemical message (glutamate) released from neurons in the brain.

The brain makes several different types of NMDA receptors, and Traynelis has focused on the NR2D subunit, one particular subtype of NMDA receptor that is abundant in regions of the basal ganglia affected by Parkinson’s disease.

"We hypothesize that blocking this particular type of NMDA receptor will help rectify the imbalances in neuronal circuits that underlie many symptoms of Parkinson's disease," Traynelis says. "This should reduce the severity of symptoms, and possibly slow disease progression by preventing the death of cells that make and use dopamine."

Geographical Ties to 1991 Gulf War ALS Cases Probed

Researchers from Duke University, the University of Cincinnati (UC) and the Durham Veterans Administration Medical Center are hoping to find a geographical pattern to help explain why 1991 Gulf War veterans contracted the fatal neurological disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at twice the normal rate during the decade after the conflict.

By layering military records of troop locations onto Gulf-area maps, "we've found there were some areas of service where there appears to be an elevated risk," said Marie Lynn Miranda, an associate professor at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment whose group uses geographic information systems (GIS) to study environmental health problems.

Also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease because it crippled and ultimately killed that baseball great in 1941, ALS causes cellular degeneration in the central nervous system. Its cause is unknown.

“There are no reports on the occurrence of ALS among veterans of other conflicts," the researchers wrote. "There is only a single report that suggests ALS may arise from environmental exposures associated with military service, per se." The cases assessed by Miranda and her colleagues occurred within a group of people who are expected to be at low risk for ALS, because they're mostly under the age of 45.

Miranda is the first author of a report on an initial analysis now published online in the research journal NeuroToxicology. The work was funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program.

The report’s senior author is Ronnie Horner, professor and director of the department of public health at Cincinnati, who led research that first documented twice-normal ALS rates among vets of the first Persian Gulf War in an article published in the September 2003 issue of the journal Neurology.

Horner's group is now assessing possible exposures vets might have had in the Gulf region that could explain the higher ALS rates its 2003 study found.

"As one of the largest contemporary set of cases, it presents a real opportunity to identify clues as to the cause of ALS not only for veterans of the first Gulf War but, perhaps, for ALS generally," Horner said. UC researchers are coordinating their investigations with those of researchers at the Durham, N.C. Veterans Medical Center and nearby Duke Medical Center.

Another UC-led study, published in the July 2008 issue of the journal Neuroepidemiology, found that the risk for developing ALS has now decreased among 1991 Gulf War vets. That suggests that the cause or causes of the ALS had something to do with their deployment in the region between August 1990 and July 1991.

Of the 135 cases diagnosed among the vets within 11 years after the war, only three had a family history of the disease. The small numbers might indicate that there is an environmental cause for ALS, the authors added.

“In the one-year period of military operations, some deployed military personnel experienced numerous exposures to multiple, potentially neurotoxic agents,” Miranda and coauthors wrote in the new report. “If the array of possible candidate environmental exposures could be reduced, it may be possible to identify or at least focus inquiry on specific potential causative agents.”

To narrow down the possibilities, Miranda and fellow investigators used GIS analysis, which allows researchers to layer different kinds of information onto maps to deduce potential risks.

They began by searching Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense records as well as other sources to identify military personnel diagnosed with ALS after 1991. Department of Defense data also allowed the researchers to identify the military units these veterans with ALS served in during their deployment to the Persian Gulfregion.

In a separate analysis, the researchers identified troop units known to have been exposed to emissions from a munitions storage area at Khamisayah, Iraq. Those munitions were destroyed by U.S. forces in March 1991, and a United Nations commission later found many rockets there had been loaded for chemical warfare.

A previous Defense Department modeling study deduced that "some 90,000 veterans may have been exposed to low levels of nerve agent" at Khamisayah, the new report said.

The GIS mapping revealed that “there were some areas where there appeared to be an elevated risk,” Miranda said. To narrow down the possibilities, she and co-investigators then used statistical methods that assess the “best guess about the likelihood that space matters” for each grid of Gulf territory, she added.

Applying those statistics, the likelihood of a spatial connection with ALS development “climbed as high as 91 percent” in some grid cells, she said, most notably in a region southeast of Khamisayah. But Miranda cautioned that she will need to do additional analyses that add “time” to “place” before she can be more specific.

For instance, the researchers will want to know whether the ALS victim’s units were in the path of emissions from Khamisayah on a specific day. Miranda and her colleagues are also interested in examining environmental exposures that may be associated with smoke plumes from oil well fires.

Other authors of the new NeuroToxicology report include Miranda’s Nicholas School colleagues M. Alicia Overstreet Galeano and Eric Tassone as well as Kelli Allen, a research health scientist at the Durham VA Medical Center and a Duke assistant research professor of medicine.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

JAMA Revisits Classic Hopkins Blue Baby Study That Revolutionized Cardiovascular Medicine

A Johns Hopkins study published 63 years ago will make an encore appearance in the July 16 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) as part of a year-long retrospective celebrating JAMA's 125th anniversary by revisiting papers that changed the course of modern-day medicine. Full text of the original paper is available online.

The now-classic "blue baby" report by pediatric cardiologist Helen Taussig (1898-1986) and surgeon Alfred Blalock (1899-1964) first appeared in JAMA on May 19, 1945. In their paper, Taussig and Blalock described for the first time the physiology of tetralogy of Fallot, one of the most common congenital malformations of the heart that was poorly understood at the time, considered inoperable and ultimately fatal. The malformation causes inadequate blood flow from the heart to the lungs and profound lack of oxygen in the blood, giving an infant's skin its hallmark bluish hue, hence "blue baby."

In addition, the paper described the first three operations in medical history designed to alleviate the defect using a special "shunt" technique that increased blood flow from the heart to the lungs. Children undergoing the surgery experienced an immediate and dramatic improvement while still in the operating room. When their oxygen-starved bodies were finally flushed with oxygen-rich blood, their bluish complexions turned a healthy pink color, an observation that prompted Blalock to exclaim famously after surgery number three, "The boy's a lovely color now."

At the time, Taussig and Blalock almost certainly knew their work would dramatically change treatment of heart disease, and records at Johns Hopkins show that hundreds and hundreds of parents sought help for their children in the months that followed. The study also revolutionized pediatric cardiology, a then nascent field, and ushered in a new era of cardiac surgery. In hindsight, it also altered the course of academic medicine, according to Johns Hopkins Children's Center cardiac specialists writing in a July 16 JAMA commentary accompanying the reprint summary of the original paper.

Historians, filmmakers and journalists have widely told the story of the research and eventual surgical solution, which began with an idea from Taussig, who took it to Blalock, who first sketched a surgical approach to the repair. But it was Vivien Thomas (1910-1985), a black surgical technician, at the time working as a lab and office assistant with Blalock, who was instrumental in developing the necessary procedure and instrumentation in dogs.

This mélange of disciplines as disparate as pediatric cardiology, surgery and anesthesiology working toward treatment of a single disorder became and to date remains the model for progress and innovation in medicine.

"Not only did the team's unprecedented collaboration in effect give birth to pediatric cardiology and led to the first successful treatment of this fatal heart defect, but it later became the prototype of the bench-to-bedside approach, a staple in academic medicine today," says Anne Murphy, M.D., an author on the commentary and a pediatric cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

In the decades that followed, the teamwork by Taussig, Blalock and Thomas also foreshadowed Johns Hopkins' efforts to eliminate racial and gender inequalities in academic medicine. In the 1940s, at Johns Hopkins, the venerable citadel of medicine, Taussig, a woman, and Thomas, an African-American, teamed up with Blalock, a white male surgeon -- a diverse and brilliant crew whose combined talent and expertise pioneered a surgery that has saved millions of lives worldwide.

Taussig went on to achieve the status of a full professor at Johns Hopkins -- one of the first women to do so -- but Thomas' role was not fully acknowledged until much later, the JAMA commentators point out, and the original paper did not credit Thomas' contributions.

"The collaboration awakened everyone to the fact that talented people like Thomas, who would have clearly been a superb surgeon, were marginalized, and medicine suffered for it," says commentary co-author Duke Cameron, M.D., head of pediatric cardiac surgery at Johns Hopkins. "It was a realization that drove much of Hopkins' subsequent efforts toward equality and diversity."

In 1976, Hopkins gave Thomas an honorary doctoral degree and appointed him instructor in surgery. Today, one of the four advisory colleges for medical students at Hopkins is named for Thomas. Every entering class learns about Thomas' story and his contributions to modern medicine.

Four out of 1,000 U.S. babies are born with heart defects, such as tetralogy of Fallot. Worldwide, nearly 1 million babies are born with heart defects, researchers estimate.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

More Children Becoming Stroke Victims

HHH Note: This story by Consumer Affairs really opened our eyes as to the potential dangers that some children at risk face. We thought you'd be interested in it as well.

Older adults are not the only people in danger of suffering a stroke. Increasingly, children are also stricken, according to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. In fact, it happens often enough....

Read the story.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Piedmont Hospital Named 2008 Most Wired Hospital for Fifth Consecutive Year

Piedmont Hospital has been named one of the nation’s Most Wired hospitals, according to the results of the 2008 Most Wired Survey and Benchmarking Study released in the July issue of Hospitals & Health Networks magazine. Three of the four Georgia hospitals named to the list are part of the Piedmont Healthcare system.

Piedmont Hospital has been named for five consecutive years, while Piedmont Fayette Hospital, also a winner this year, has been recognized for four consecutive years. Both hospitals are the only two in the metro Atlanta area to be named to the 2008 list. This is the first year for Piedmont Mountainside Hospital in Jasper, Ga., to be named in the small and rural category.

“We are proud the Most Wired Survey and Benchmarking Study has recognized Piedmont Hospital for the fifth year in a row as a Most Wired hospital,” said Robert Maynard, president and CEO of Piedmont Hospital. “This recognition shows our dedication to quality and excellence in the use of information technology to improve patient care and safety.”

The Most Wired Survey is conducted annually by Hospitals & Health Networks magazine, which uses the results to name the 100 Most Wired hospitals and health systems. The purpose of the study is to promote the effective use of information technology in achieving clinical and operational excellence. It focuses on how the nation’s hospitals use information technologies for quality, customer service, public health and safety, business processes and workforce issues.

“Today’s results add to the growing evidence that the appropriate use of IT can enhance both quality and patient satisfaction,” said Alden Solovy, executive editor of Hospitals & Health Networks magazine. “Most Wired hospitals are proving the fundamental value of information technology.”

The nation’s 100 Most Wired hospitals show better outcomes in four key areas: mortality rates, patient safety measures from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), core measures from Hospital Compare, and average length of stay. Based on analysis of the tenth annual Most Wired Survey and Benchmarking Study results, hospitals are embracing technology as a key tool for healthcare quality improvements.

“Health IT has shown incredible promise in helping us improve the quality and safety of the care hospitals deliver every day,” said Rich Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association. “The results of the Most Wired survey confirm that today’s patient also understands the benefits of IT in improving care and improving the overall hospital experience.”

Hospitals & Health Networks conducted the 2008 survey in cooperation with Accenture, McKesson Corp. and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives. The July H&HN cover story detailing results is available at

Using Magnetic Nanoparticles to Combat Cancer

Scientists at Georgia Tech have developed a potential new treatment against cancer that attaches magnetic nanoparticles to cancer cells, allowing them to be captured and carried out of the body. The treatment, which has been tested in the laboratory and will now be looked at in survival studies, is detailed online in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

"We've been able to use magnetic nanoparticles to capture free-floating cancer cells and then take them out of the body,” said John McDonald, chair of the School of Biology at Georgia Tech and chief research scientist at the Ovarian Cancer Institute. “This technology may be of special importance in the treatment of ovarian cancer where the malignancy is typically spread by free-floating cancer cells released from the primary tumor into the abdominal cavity.”

The idea came to the research team from the work of Ken Scarberry, a Ph.D. student in Tech’s School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Scarberry originally conceived of the idea as a means of extracting viruses and virally infected cells when his advisor, Chemistry professor John Zhang, had another idea. He asked if the technology could be applied to cancer. Scarberry suggested it might be an effective means of preventing cancer cells from spreading.

They began by testing the therapy on mice. After giving the cancer cells in the mice a fluorescent green tag and staining the magnetic nanoparticles red, they were able to apply a magnet and move the green cancer cells to the abdominal region.

“If the therapy is able to pass further tests that show it can prevent the cancer from spreading from the original tumor,” Scarberry said, “it could be an important tool in cancer treatment.”
This technology holds more promise than solely using antibodies to fight cancer because there seems to be less potential for the body to develop an immune response due to the unique peptide-targeting strategy, and the composition of the magnetic nanoparticles.

"If you modify the nanoparticle and target it directly to the tumor cells using a small peptide, you are less likely to generate an undesirable immune response and more accurately target the cells of interest,” said Research Scientist Erin Dickerson.

In addition to testing magnetic nanoparticles, the research team is collaborating with other groups at Georgia Tech to determine how peptide-directed gold nanoparticles and nanohydrogels might also be used in fighting cancer.

Smothered Genes Combine with Mutations to Yield Poor Outcome

Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers have identified a set of genes in breast and colon cancers with a deadly combination of traditional mutations and “smothered” gene activity that may result in poor outcomes for patients.

The Hopkins team showed that this smothering process, called epigenetic inactivation, contributes to the aggressiveness of breast and colon cancer by disrupting biochemical pathways that normally suppress the runaway growth of cells that is the hallmark of cancer. While mutations alter pathways by rewriting the gene’s DNA code, epigenetic marks affect genes without changing the code itself.

“Until studies like ours, it was easy to think that if we didn’t find gene mutations in certain biochemical pathways linked to breast or colon cancer, then those pathways were normal in such patients,” says Stephen Baylin, M.D., the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research and deputy director of the Kimmel Cancer Center. “Now we know that, in some patients, the pathways involved with newly discovered mutated genes are often more frequently disrupted by epigenetic mechanisms rather than genetic ones.”

“That’s a powerful insight that could help us diagnose patients quicker, predict the course of their cancer more accurately and in the future treat the disease more effectively,” adds Baylin. A report on this work appeared May 27 in PLoS Medicine.

The team made their discovery using microarray technology – special silicon chips carrying pieces of genetic material that allow thousands of genes to be analyzed at one time. For this study, microarrays were tailored to locate cancer-related genes inactivated by an epigenetic process called DNA methylation. This methylation involves the binding of molecules called methyl groups to elements of DNA called cytosines that are located in a gene’s “on-off switch.” Excess methylation smothers the gene with too many methyl groups and interferes with the gene’s normal protein production, setting the stage for a lethal cancer.

Some 189 mutated genes in breast and colon cancers, previously identified by a Kimmel Cancer Center research team, were screened for methylation by Baylin’s group. They found 36 genes that were infrequently mutated in cancer, but were “hyper”methylated, often in both breast and colon cancers. After reviewing samples from 30 breast and 20 colorectal cancer patients as well as information from public microarray databases, the researchers found 18 of these genes that were strongly linked to poor outcome of patients with tumors carrying these changes.

For most of the genes, the researchers were able to reverse their epigenetic change and reactivate them in test tubes by stripping off excess methyl groups. This suggests that new treatments designed to reverse hypermethylation could be a simpler and more practical approach to treating cancer than strategies that attempt to replace, deactivate or compensate for mutated genes, according to Baylin.

Baylin also believes that the methlylated genes identified in this study could be inactivated in a broader range of cancers as well. That means the current findings could be extended to other cancers, improving the ability of physicians to predict the course of additional types of tumors, he says.

“We’ve learned from this study that we must include both genetic and epigenetic changes when we do future microarray analyses to increase our understanding of the genetic basis of cancer,” Baylin says. “Such information will provide new details about why cancers start and help us identify which cancers will be particularly aggressive in our patients.”

Participants in the study included Timothy Chan, Sabine Glockner, Joo Mi Yi, Wei Chen, Leslie Cope, James Herman, Victor Velculescu, Kornel Schuebel, and Nita Ahuja of Johns Hopkins, and Leander Van Neste of Ghent University, Belgium.

This work was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Researchers at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University School of Medicine Make New Discovery in Pediatric Heart Disease Diagnosis

PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Erin Strickland had been sick for months when she was admitted to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston in January 2008. The Douglasville teen had been treated for practically everything, from strep throat to scarlet fever to allergic reactions. Erin's quality of life had been limited by an unidentified illness, preventing her from participating in her normal athletic activities. Erin's mother, Lynda, was deeply concerned and spent endless hours taking Erin to specialist after specialist seeking an explanation for her numerous symptoms, which included rash, eye swelling, vomiting and headache.

Finally, at Children's, Lynda received the explanation for which she'd been searching so desperately. Erin was diagnosed, by cardiac biopsy, with giant cell myocarditis, an extremely rare cause of heart disease in children. Erin's diagnosis was aided by research led by Kevin Maher, M.D., Pediatric Cardiologist at the Children's Sibley Heart Center, and Assistant Professor at Emory University School of Medicine. Erin's B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) level was elevated -- more than 50 times its normal level -- on admission to Children's, which led to further evaluation and biopsy.

Dr. Maher recently concluded research--diagnosing and evaluating 33 patients who presented in the Emergency department--regarding the use of (BNP) testing to help diagnose heart disease in infants and children. BNP testing is already being used effectively in adult emergency rooms to determine if patient symptoms are heart-related or not. Though BNP tests are not currently being used in pediatric emergency rooms, Dr. Maher's research indicates they should be. Use of such tests could dramatically increase the chances of diagnosing heart problems early, before more serious complications arise. Dr. Maher and his team concluded that BNP level can be used as a marker to aid in the recognition of pediatric heart disease. This means that the same test physicians use to diagnose heart disease in a 75-year-old can now be used to diagnose heart disease in an infant. This discovery will aid Emergency physicians in the recognition of pediatric heart disease and has great life-saving potential.

Fortunately for Erin, Dr. Maher and the other cardiologists at Children's diagnosed her quickly enough to avoid heart transplantation. Erin is currently being treated for her condition with medication, and she celebrated her 15th birthday in March. Though she is unable to resume her normal athletic pursuits immediately, physicians are pleased with her progress and believe she has a bright future.

Louise Markert’s Little Schoolhouse

When the call came in late March, Louise Markert was ready. Across campus, through the hospital and into the operating room she marched. Nestled inside the sterile plastic container she held close to her body were precious slivers of a living human organ.

Those tiny slices held the promise of life for an innocent baby sleeping just beyond the operating doors. And Markert was the only doctor in the world who could deliver the experimental therapy they represent.

It was a similar phone call 16 years ago that brought Markert to these OR doors. She had been a pediatric immunologist on call when “I got a call about a baby in Knoxville, Tenn.,” she recalls in a staccato voice rounded by remnants of her northern New York origins. “The baby had DiGeorge syndrome and they wanted to know if we could help.”

DiGeorge syndrome is a quirk of nature that occurs when something goes terribly wrong during the first trimester of an embryo’s development. It sets the stage for a complicated disease and a host of maladies, including heart defects and calcium problems. In less than 1 percent of infants affected, a severe disruption of the immune system means almost certain death.

The Knoxville doctors had turned to Duke for help because of its leaders in clinical and basic immunology, including the late Bernard Amos, Rebecca Buckley and Barton Haynes. Among Duke’s notable achievements in this area was the tissue typing that led to the success of modern-day organ transplants.

Markert, who fell in love with immunology in high school, trained at Duke under Amos. “He recommended I do pediatrics. I didn’t like kids much at that time.” But that would soon change.

Markert eventually focused her efforts on the thymus. This vital but overlooked organ is located behind the breastbone and guides the immature white blood cells from the bone marrow so they can develop into T-cells that fight off infection.

“The thymus is like a schoolhouse,” Markert says simply, offering the analogy she uses with her patients. “When you open the doors, the students — in the form of immature white blood cells — are the children who run in. Eventually they graduate to be T-cells.”

Each year, fewer than 10 infants are born with complete DiGeorge, in which they lack a thymus entirely. Without the gland, babies have little to no chance of living past their second year.

Although thymus transplants had been attempted as early as the late 1960s for other immunodeficiency diseases, there had been little success, in part because no one knew which infants could benefit.

There also were concerns about the tissue’s viability. The thymus had to be harvested from a living donor and kept alive by being sliced into tiny pieces, which allows oxygen to reach all of the tissue’s cells while it’s being tested for safety prior to implant.

Pediatric heart surgeons routinely cut through the thymus to get to the heart, and it is normally discarded during open heart surgery on very young patients. That meant there was a fairly plentiful supply of the glands, but Markert keenly remembers her mounting frustration with keeping them viable for a transplant.

“I’d slice the tissue and after a week of culture, I’d bring it to Dr. Haynes’ lab where his technicians would section it. Then I’d go over to meet with Bart Haynes (an authority on T-cells and head of Duke’s human vaccine institute) who would tell me it was dead.”

Over and over again she tried. She learned how to sustain the thymus in a lab dish of special fluid and to slice it very gently. “That’s key,” she says. “If you use too much pressure, you kill the whole thing.”

Markert distinctly remembers the day when she arrived at Haynes’ door and learned that her persistence had paid off. “It was wonderful when he finally smiled and said, ‘It’s alive.’”

“The first transplant was so stressful, you can’t imagine. The child developed a horrible rash. I thought I had given her cancer. She was a real mess.”

The 3-month wait to biopsy that thymus seemed to take forever. Finally, she and Haynes peered into the microscope. “It looked like a normal thymus. It was unbelievable.”

Although that baby lived, complete success was not yet at hand. The next three babies died. By the time the fifth child survived, Markert was recognizing some of her missteps.

“We learned a lot about how to manage the children and do better.”

She also figured out why the first child developed the rash. “I run into it all the time. The child had developed rogue T-cells. Now I use cyclosporine (an anti-rejection drug) and have no problems.”

Today, that first baby is a healthy 14-year-old. And, after 52 transplants, Markert’s procedure now boosts a 73 percent success rate. Although still considered experimental, thymus transplants are covered by some insurance companies.

Markert receives funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration to continue the research. The amount of paperwork needed to track her program and continue its funding can feel insurmountable. Stacks of papers, files and folders consume her office, yet Markert remains committed. Her staff makes her work possible, and helps her field daily referrals from around the world.

She’s had highs when patients live, and lows when she thought her entire program would be put to a penniless death. But none of it has dampened Markert’s enthusiasm for what’s become her life’s passion.

“When I started, I was told I’d never get grants and that I should work with mice. I don’t really like mice,” she says matter-of-factly.

“Now I’m helping babies live who would die otherwise. That’s what’s important to me.”

Debbe Geiger is a senior media relations specialist in the Duke Medical Center