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March 21, 2002


Grants awarded to researchers

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has granted $315,791 to education school professor Rita Bean for a project aimed at providing professional development and ongoing support to teachers, with the ultimate goal of improving students' reading achievement through systemic change in targeted schools.

Susan Campbell, faculty member in the psychology department, has received $837,789 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for an ongoing child and youth development study.

The study follows 1,247 children and their families, from one month of age through second grade.

William Chambers of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute has received a $449,262 grant from the James S. McDonnell Foundation to develop a novel strategy for glioma-specific antigen isolation.

Nursing school professor Leslie A. Hoffman has been awarded $405,878 by the National Institute of Nursing Research for a project aimed at improving outcomes in mechanically ventilated patients.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has granted $309,822 to medicine professor Kevin L. Kraemer to develop a brief intervention to prevent prenatal alcohol use.

The Office of Naval Research has awarded $338,565 to Patrick Loughlin of the engineering school to study methods for nonstationary signal analysis and classification.

Stryker Corp. has granted James Luketich of surgery $800,000 to support expansion of the minimally invasive surgery effort at the UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Shadyside hospitals.

Owens Corning has granted $990,000 to Gary M. Marsh of the Graduate School of Public Health to establish a collaborative research relationship between Marsh's occupational health research group and Owens Corning's occupational epidemiology program.

Ada Mezzich of the dental medicine school has been granted $403,387 by the National Institute of Dental Research to study the impact of child neglect in substance abuse families.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has awarded $296,114 to the public health school's Pamela B. Peele to analyze the nature and causes of motor vehicle crashes involving Philadelphia city employees, and to develop a risk factor model that accounts for morbidity and economic burden of those crashes.

The American Cancer Society has granted $341,000 to William Saunders of biological sciences for a study, "SLK 19 and Centromere Function During Division."

The Office of Naval Research has awarded $783,261 to Kurt Vanlehn of the Learning Research and Development Center to develop an intelligent tutoring system with natural language dialogue.


Glucosamine, chondroitin studied for treatment of arthritis

Pitt has joined 12 other centers across the country in a massive study funded by the National Institutes of Health to determine the safety and effectiveness of popular dietary supplements glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate in treating the symptoms of osteoarthritis in the knee.

Locally, the study's principal investigator is Chester V. Oddis, associate professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology and clinical immunology.

"Current medical therapies are not optimal and treatment with 'alternative' agents have broad appeal," Oddis said. "The lay literature is replete with recommendations, testimonials and fervor for therapeutic approaches that use dietary supplements, but at present there is little reliable information available. There is a critical need for sound scientific evidence to allow physicians to properly manage and advise their osteoarthritis patients."

The double-blind, placebo-controlled 24-week clinical trial will enroll 1,588 subjects nationwide, with 113 at Pitt.

Nearly 20 million people suffer from osteoarthritis in the United States and that number is expected to grow as the population ages.


Evidence found of genetic susceptibility for anorexia nervosa

A multi-center, international collaborative team of researchers is the first to identify a region on chromosome 1 that may contain genes that make an individual vulnerable to developing anorexia nervosa.

The findings add to a growing body of research supporting the belief that genetic transmission — in addition to psychosocial factors — contributes to a person's vulnerability to develop anorexia nervosa.

The study, in the March issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, is the first genome-wide linkage analysis of eating disorders and uses an affected relative pair research method that looks for genes that run in families where two or more people have a disorder. Results from a linkage study provide stronger evidence of a genetic basis for an illness than those from population-based association studies, where people with a disorder are compared with samples from the general population.

"It may be that a number of genes contributed to anorexia nervosa and, through additional research, we hope to eventually be able to identify them," said Walter H. Kaye, professor of psychiatry in Pitt's School of Medicine and principal investigator for the collaborative study.



Researchers report findings at American College of Cardiology session

The following abstracts were presented by Pitt School of Medicine researchers this month at the 51st Annual Scientific Session of the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta.

TnT levels predict mortality in heart failure patients undergoing defibrillator implantation While implantable cardiac defibrillators reduce mortality in certain patients with cardiomyopathy, mortality remains high. Ali F. Sonel, assistant professor of medicine, measured Troponin T (TnT) levels in 52 congestive heart failure patients just prior to these patients being implanted with an internal defibrillator. Patients with non-detectable TnT levels were classified into group A while those with detectable levels were put in group B.

During the 17-month follow-up, group A (no TnT) patients had a 16 percent mortality rate while group B (detectable TnT) patients had a 67 percent mortality rates. According to Sonel, detectable TnT may be a useful marker for risk stratification of patients prior to defibrillator implantation.

Congestive heart failure and genotyping For patients with congestive heart failure, genetic risk assessment that is based on more than one gene may be a more powerful prognostic indicator of survival than single gene strategies.

Dennis McNamara, Pitt associate professor of medicine, studied 463 patients with congestive heart failure who were genotyped for the ACE D allele and the eNOS T allele. Patients were followed until heart transplant or death.

The study found those patients with both genotypes had a poorer event-free survival than for those patients with neither. McNamara concluded that combining ACE and eNOS genotype information increases the power of genetic risk stratification for congestive heart failure patients and risk assessment using multiple genes may be a superior prognostic tool to single gene analysis.

Urgent heart bypass following PCI complications John T. Schindler, a Pitt fellow in cardiovascular diseases, studied whether the use of stents would reduce the need for urgent bypass surgery during angioplasty. In his retrospective study, Schindler examined records of 4,564 patients from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute's Dynamic Registry database who underwent percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI).

Although complications included total occlusions preventing angioplasty, artery perforations and a balloon dislodgment, the greatest cause of urgent surgery was a large dissection (disruption) of the blood vessel wall that at times cannot be treated with further stenting. Schindler also found that those patients who required emergent or urgent bypass surgery had a higher mortality rate (11.1 percent) than those who did not (1.4 percent).

Physician assessment compared with cardiac markers in emergency department Despite the use of blood tests to predict short-term cardiac events in patients presenting to the emergency department with chest pain, physician assessment still remains the most important predictor of a patient's condition.

According to a study by assistant professor Ali F. Sonel, use of these cardiac markers (Tnl, MLC, Mb) should be used only in conjunction with physician assessment of cardiac risk. According to his study of 247 patients showing symptoms of heart attack, physicians relying on EKG alone were most accurate (96 percent) in their prediction of early ischemic events. The use of markers (which were not shown to physicians during the study period) may not improve their prediction of events, Sonel reported.

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