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November 23, 1994


PCI gets $1 million gene therapy grant

A $1 million grant has been awarded to the Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (PCI) by the Lucille P. Markey Charitable Trust for a research program in gene therapy for cancer.

The program's long-term objective is to use this molecular approach to ameliorate, or possibly correct, deficiencies in metabolism or immunity, or to stimulate the body's immune defenses against cancer.

The grant will help to fund the research program in three ways, including the establishment of specialized facilities for gene therapy research. In addition, the grant will help recruit scientists with expertise in designing gene therapies for lung cancer, breast cancer, brain tumors and other types of cancer. The grant also will be used as seed money to support innovative and promising pilot projects in gene therapy.

PCI director Ronald Herberman is the program's principal investigator.


Grants awarded for multi-center studies of domestic violence

The Center for Injury Research and Control (CIRCL) at Pitt's medical center has received two grants to take part in multi-center studies of domestic violence.

The first study will evaluate the relative effectiveness of various treatment programs for men who batter their female partners. The second study is an evaluation of a national training program, called the National Health Initiative, to improve the detection, identification and referral of battered women in hospital emergency departments.

The grants, totaling $340,000, are from the Centers for Disease Control.

CIRCL provides leadership and coordination of injury control efforts through research, surveillance, education and supporting community-based programs and policy. Jeff Cohen, assistant professor of medicine, is CIRCL director.


Heart surgery study said to be flawed

The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council's model for collecting data on hospital deaths following heart surgery is flawed because the severity of a patient's disease and risk factors that influence a patient's likelihood of dying are not fully considered, according to a study in the November issue of The Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

The Pennsylvania model lacks sensitivity in its ability to portray co-morbid conditions and to accurately assess the severity of illness, according to Brack Hattler, professor of surgery, director of the High Risk Program in Pitt's medical center, and author of the study.

For example, risk factors recognized as important but not considered by the state included heart ejection fraction and acute cardiac catheterization emergencies, Hattler noted.


PCI gets NCI grants for breast cancer study

Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (PCI) investigators have been awarded more than $700,000 by the National Cancer Institute for a research program addressing a wide range of breast cancer issues.

One two-year, $620,000 grant is for the development of a breast cancer research program that will encompass and integrate different specialties. A major emphasis of the program will be the study of complex interactions of genetic, endocrine and environmental factors that affect the growth and other characteristics of breast cancer tissue.

The research program also will emphasize biobehavioral research that includes studies of how various interventions (exercise, biofeedback and counseling) affect breast cancer survivors.

Another grant of approximately $90,000 has been awarded to purchase a multi-mode microscope and computer software from Biological Detection Systems, a Pittsburgh-based biotech company. This technology will allow researchers to perform previously impossible or technically difficult experiments.

PCI director Ronald Herberman is principal investigator on the grants.


Pitt part of study of drug to reverse stroke

Pitt's medical center is one of 25 centers in the United States to participate in a randomized clinical study of the drug prourokinase in reversing symptoms of patients with acute stroke. In the study, the drug will administered with microcatheters directly to the clot in the brain.

Patients with symptoms of ischemic stroke for whom treatment can be instituted within six hours will be eligible for the study. The drug will be administered over a two-hour period.

Although the incidence of stroke in this country continues to decline, it remains the fourth leading cause of death.

Co-investigators are Lawrence R. Wechsler, clinical associate professor of neurology, and Charles Jungreis, chief of neuroradiology. Also participating are Laurie Knepper, assistant professor of neurology, and Benjamin Eidelman, interim chairperson of neurology.


GSPH prof gets grant to study arterial disease detection

A five-year grant in excess of $300,000 to study the use of ultrasound to detect arterial disease has been awarded to Kim Sutton-Tyrrell, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Graduate School of Public Health.

During an ultrasound examination, sound waves are bounced off the walls of arteries to create an image of their interior. From this image, scientists can measure the thickness of the arterial wall to determine the presence and extent of peripheral atherosclerosis. Unlike other vascular imaging techniques, ultrasound does not involve needles or dye injections.

Atherosclerosis, which involves hardening of large arteries in the neck and legs, affects the majority of older people to some extent.


PCI studying drug to treat prostate cancer

The Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (PCI) is studying the use of the drug suramin in treating men with advanced prostate cancer whose disease has become resistant to standard hormone treatment. Currently, there is no effective therapy for hormone-resistant or hormone-refractory prostate cancer.

Suramin has been available since the 1920s, when it was used in Africa to treat sleeping sickness. Evidence suggests that suramin, which binds to the surface of cancer cells, can inhibit factors necessary for such cells to grow.

PCI is one of a few institutions in the country that have access to suramin for clinical studies.

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