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November 8, 2001


Professor awarded USAID grant

Mitchell A. Seligson, Daniel H. Wallace Professor of Political Science, has been awarded a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to support the Pitt Latin American Public Opinion Project.

The project carries out studies of public support for democracy in Latin America, and has done research in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru.

The USAID grant allows expansion of the project to Ecuador, where more than 5,000 Ecuadorians will be interviewed, measuring their democratic values and their participation in civil society. Research will focus on local government, the environment and poverty.


GSPH gets $1.5 million grant for BARI 2D study

Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) has received a $1.5 million grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb for the Bypass Angioplasty Revascu-larization Investigation 2D (BARI 2D) study.

The study will determine the best way to treat patients who have early coronary artery disease (CAD) and type 2 diabetes. CAD is the No. 1 killer of people with type 2 diabetes.

The GSPH-coordinated study previously received grants of $52.2 million from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, $4.2 million from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive & Kidney Diseases and $15 million from GlaxoSmithKline.

BARI 2D is comparing the effectiveness of various therapeutic regimens in reducing the number of deaths from CAD among type 2 diabetics. Investigators aim to determine whether aggressive drug therapy is more effective alone or in combination with surgery. In type 2 diabetes, the body is unable to properly use insulin, a hormone needed to metabolize simple sugars. Such insulin resistance is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The study will answer two questions that are critical to type 2 diabetic patients with stable coronary artery disease: Under what circumstances is it best to undergo revascularization in addition to drug therapy? Which method of drug therapy is best at controlling glucose?

Patients will be followed for at least five years to assess mortality, heart attack, stroke and other clinical events, angina, quality of life and cost of treatment. They will be on strict risk-factor management to control obesity, lipids and high blood pressure.


Dry mouth more common in diabetics

People with type 1 diabetes who have developed neuropathy are more likely to suffer from dry mouth, a condition that can contribute to a variety of oral health problems, according to Pitt researchers in a study published in Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, Oral Radiology and Endodontics.

"This is the first study to establish a link between diabetes, neuropathy and dry mouth," said Paul A. Moore, professor of pharmacology in the dental medicine school's Department of Public Health Dentistry. "Both researchers and people with diabetes have long suspected this relationship. By identifying the relationship, we can better identify preventive measures to protect our patients' oral, and overall, health."

Participants from the Pittsburgh Epidemiology of Diabetes Complications study, led by researchers at Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH), were enrolled in this oral health substudy. Researchers compared 406 patients with type 1 diabetes to 268 people without the disease. Those with diabetes reported more symptoms of dry mouth and had impaired salivary flow rates; those with diabetes and neuropathy had increased symptoms of dry mouth and lower rates of salivary flow.

The study also found that people with diabetes who smoke and snack frequently reported more symptoms of dry mouth. Those taking medications that tend to dry the mouth and those whose diabetes was not well controlled were more likely to have low salivary flow. The patients with the lowest salivary flow rates were more likely to have increased dental decay.

According to Moore, neuropathy and low salivary flow are common in those with diabetes possibly due to a decreased responsiveness of the nerves that stimulate the production of saliva. Saliva washes sugar out of the mouth after eating. A decreased salivary flow may cause complications such as xerostomia (dry mouth), tooth loss, gingivitis, periodontitis, odontogenic abscesses and soft tissue lesions in the mouth and on the tongue.

"Unfortunately this means that our diabetic patients have one more thing to worry about, but oral health problems caused by dry mouth can easily be treated through regular visits to the dentist," said Trevor J. Orchard, a GSPH professor of epidemiology and co-investigator in the study. "This study illustrates the need for and the importance of multi-disciplinary research; it teaches us how to treat the patient, not just the disease."

Type 1 diabetes is the more severe, insulin-dependent form of the disease, affecting nearly one million people in the United States. Formerly known as "juvenile diabetes," type 1 diabetes can occur at any time throughout life, but generally strikes before the age of 35.

The Pitt study was sponsored by grants from the National Institutes of Health.


Award to fund research on brain cancer

Two Pitt medical school researchers are winners of the first PNC Foundation Innovation Award to support novel research projects.

Shi-Yuan Cheng, assistant professor of pathology, and Xiao Xiao, assistant professor of molecular genetics and biochemistry, received the $40,000 award for their research study on the use of gene therapy in treating brain cancer that promises to advance knowledge about the prevention and treatment of this type of cancer.

"We are grateful for this generous gift of $40,000 from the PNC Foundation," said Ronald B. Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and associate vice chancellor for research, Health Sciences at Pitt.

In their research study, Cheng and Xiao focus on treatment of the most common type of primary brain cancer tumors, called gliomas. Gliomas are highly lethal and difficult to treat successfully, with most patients suffering from tumor recurrence. Cheng and Xiao have designed a unique treatment approach that seeks to destroy brain cancer by introducing genes into cells to block the development of blood vessels that nourish tumor growth or to promote the self-destruction of tumor cells.

The researchers have converted a virus, called the adeno-associated virus (AAV), into a vector, or shuttle, to transport such cancer-fighting genes into the body. Once transported into a cell, the genes stimulate the production of therapeutic proteins that block tumor growth.

Previous research by Cheng and Xiao using AAV resulted in a gene therapy approach that prevented the growth of human brain tumors implanted in mice. The researchers combined AAV with the gene for angiotensin, a therapeutic protein, and injected the AAV-angiotensin gene into mice before they were implanted with human brain tumors. The gene therapy successfully blocked the development of blood vessels to the implanted tumors, preventing them from growing.

In the current study, the researchers will be examining whether this approach is effective in treating an already existing brain cancer. They also will be exploring which particular genes or gene combinations are the most successful in destroying brain cancer.

The PNC award consists of a $150,000 grant to be divided over the next three years to fund a different individual investigator or team of investigators at UPCI each year. The grant continues PNC's ongoing support for research at UPCI.

In 1999, a five-year grant established the PNC Molecular Oncology Laboratory at the Hillman Cancer Center, slated to open in summer 2002.

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