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May 28, 1998


Pitt awarded grant for research into Parkinson's

The Scaife Family Foundation has awarded a $400,000, two-year grant to Pitt's Center of Excellence in Parkinson's Disease to provide seed money for innovative research proposals and funds to buy equipment.

Pitt already has received funding for 1998. It will be used to purchase new equipment and launch pilot research projects.

"As a result of this support, a number of new projects will be initiated at the University of Pittsburgh over the next several months," said Pitt neurology professor Michael Zigmond. "Most of them will be directed by individuals who have not previously applied their skills for the study of Parkinson's disease. We are confident that important new insights will come from this work and deeply appreciate the support provided by the Scaife Family Foundation." Parkinson's is a progressive, debilitating disease affecting more than a million Americans. It primarily affects older people and can be detected in about one percent of the population over age 60, but in rare cases the disease strikes teenagers.


Altered neural circuitry may contribute to disturbances in cognitive functions in schizophrenia

Study results published by Pitt researchers in the April 28 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offer a strong biological explanation for why cognitive processes become disordered in patients with schizophrenia.

"These results are important because even though psychosis ã the delusions and hallucinations associated with this disease ã is its most striking feature, disturbance in cognitive processing is often the most disabling, persistent and difficult to treat feature of schizophrenia," said David A. Lewis, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and co-author of the study.

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that afflicts more than 2 million people in the United States. The onset of the disease usually occurs during late adolescence or early adulthood and frequently leads to a life of disability. In 10-15 percent of cases, schizophrenia ends in suicide.

Lewis and his colleagues found that a component of the neural circuitry, or connections among brain cells, of the prefrontal cortex is substantially altered in most schizophrenics. The affected component is called a chandelier neuron axon cartridge and plays a major role in controlling other neurons that process information within the prefrontal cortex and then send it to other brain regions. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for complex thinking processes such as making judgments, formulating plans and organizing speech.

"We can't determine from this study whether the alterations in chandelier neuron axon cartridges are the primary brain disturbance in schizophrenia or if they represent the brain's response to some other abnormality," Lewis said. "But the results do open options for the development of new treatments targeted at improving the cognitive symptoms of this disorder." Co-authors are Tsung-Ung Woo, formerly of Pitt and now a psychiatry resident at UCLA; research specialist Richard E. Whitehead and research principal Darlene S. Melchitzky, both from Pitt's psychiatry department.


UPCI physician gets awards for study on vitamin D and prostate cancer

Donald L. Trump, deputy director for clinical investigations at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), has received two awards totaling $180,000 for his research on vitamin D's potential for killing, or controlling the growth of, human prostate cancer tumors.

The awards were made by two not-for-profit charities, the Association for the Cure of Cancer of the Prostate and the Mary Hillman Jennings Foundation.

Together with Candace Johnson, UPCI interim deputy director for basic research, Trump discovered receptors for vitamin D in cells from many types of cancers, as well as some normal tissues. They also found that vitamin D arrested cancer growth in culture and in animals. They have incorporated a vitamin D metabolite into clinical trials for men with advanced prostate cancer.

"One of the first clues we had that vitamin D was important for cancer came from a study that showed men living in the northern portions of the world had higher death rates from prostate cancer than men living in southern latitudes. Men in the north are exposed to less sunlight, which initiates vitamin D production in the body," Trump said. "This finding corresponded well with the fact that Scandinavians and African Americans have the highest incidence of prostate cancer worldwide. Scandinavians receive less sunlight on average than individuals in temperate and tropical climates. African Americans have skin pigment that blocks sunlight."


Researcher gets grant

Andrew Baum, deputy director for cancer control and prevention at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) has received a $103,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute's Office of Cancer Survivorship for his research on prostate cancer survivors' quality of life.

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer among men in the United States, accounting for 209,000 new cases in 1997 and approximately 14 percent of cancer-related deaths. It occurs primarily in older men but has a relatively good prognosis if detected and treated early enough. Treatments such as radical prostatectomy and radiotherapy are effective in many patients, and five-year survival rates exceed 60 percent. However, these treatments can be stressful, and side effects include impotence and incontinence.

"We have begun to identify short-term quality of life problems among prostate cancer patients following diagnosis and treatment," said Baum, who also directs UPCI's Behavioral Medicine and Oncology Program.

"However, despite the increasing incidence of this disease and the fact that prostate cancer survivors are a rapidly growing group, little is known about long-term quality of life and response to recurrence and treatment among these men.

"There also is relatively little known about the impact that recurrence or subsequent treatment for prostate cancer has on quality of life," Baum said.

Baum's research will evaluate quality of life experienced by survivors five-to-eight years after their treatment for primary prostate cancer.

Men who would like to participate or want to learn more about the study can call Michele Elder at 624-4867.

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