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March 16, 2000


Grants awarded to researchers

Andrew Baum, of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, has been awarded a one-year, $565,129 grant to study stress and mental health effects among victims of petrochemical explosions and fires. The grant came from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Baum's project is aimed at:

* Characterizing acute and chronic responses to threat among refinery or chemical/industrial disasters.

* Examining relationships among stress and exposure variables (exposure to threat of death or disfigurement, or to others being killed or injured), cognitive and behavioral processes (intrusive memories, for example), social support, and outcome variables for victims showing differing levels of mental health disability.

* Evaluating symptoms of acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

* Implementing and evaluating a preventive intervention to educate survivors about normal responses to traumatic events and helping them to process the early post-incident phase.

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $425,899, three-year grant to Joseph Grabowski, of chemistry, to develop virtual training modules for a variety of modern mass spectrometric techniques as well as for more common, classical approaches.

The goal is to create web-based learning tools for lecture and laboratory courses in chemistry, biological sciences, geology and chemical engineering, among other disciplines.

Mary Kerr, of nursing, has received $460,409 from the National Institute of Nursing Research to examine the Apoli-poprotein E (ApoE) genotype and its relationship to cerebrovascular, metabolic and neurotransmitter responses and functional outcomes following traumatic brain injuries.

The U.S. Department of Education has granted $308,951 to Patricia Stranahan of Pitt's Asian studies program for a national resource center for East Asian studies.

The Asian studies program provides instruction on East Asian cultures from both social scientific and humanistic perspectives. It disseminates instructional materials and stimulates exchanges of ideas on East Asian studies instruction among educators in colleges and secondary schools. Of special concern is the need to make language and culture studies accessible and relevant for African American students and/or students in the sciences and technical fields.

The Grable Foundation has awarded a $395,200 three-year grant to Joseph Werlinich, of administrative and policy studies, to fund "The Leadership Consortium" of school principals.

This principals' academy will provide skills training, leadership development, information and networking opportunities to some 30 southwestern Pennsylvania principals each year.


Electrified acupuncture for low back pain in elderly studied

Pitt physicians are studying the use of electronically stimulated acupuncture in treating low back pain caused by osteoarthritis in people over age 65.

The treatment is called percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS). During the procedure, acupuncture needles are inserted into specific points in the lower back, then the needles are given a mild electrical stimulation. The study will evaluate the effect of PENS in reducing pain intensity and examine its effects on physical and neuro-psychological performance, mood and quality of life.

"This represents the first well-controlled, comprehensive examination of alternative medicine intervention for low back pain in older adults," said, assistant professor of medicine and principal investigator in the study.

An estimated 20 percent of older adults suffer from chronic lower back pain, she said.

The study is funded by Pitt's Multipurpose Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases Center grant.


Experimental agent may enhance effect

of radiation on brain metastases Early results from an ongoing research study suggest that an experimental agent, Xcytrin (motexafin gadolinium), enhances the cancer-killing effects of radiation and may lead to significant tumor shrinkage and improvements in survival and brain function in patients with the most common type of brain tumor.

The phase III clinical trial is being conducted at more than 40 centers in the United States, Canada and Europe, including the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI).

The trial focuses on patients with brain metastases, which are tumors that occur when cancer spreads from another part of the body. Nearly 150,000 cases of brain metastases are diagnosed annually in the United States, compared to 17,000 cases of primary brain tumors. Patients with brain metastases may suffer from a variety of symptoms, including seizures, decreased neurological function and problems with balance and memory.

"This is one of the first studies to look critically at four important factors related to brain metastases: survival, quality of life, tumor progression and patients' neurological function," said David Schiff, principal investigator and assistant professor of neurosurgery and medical oncology. "So far, initial results for this drug are encouraging in these four areas."

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