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June 24, 2004

Research Notes

Grants awarded to researchers

Deborah Aaron of the School of Education’s health, physical and recreation education department has received a $649,144 continuation grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute for research on potential differences between heterosexual and lesbian women in the prevalence and pattern of risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The project examines a sample of 500 self-identified lesbians and 500 heterosexual women matched for age, socioeconomic status and ethnicity.

The National Institute of Mental Health has granted $286,857 to Bita Moghaddam of the neuroscience department to continue her research on”Translational Studies on Cognitive Flexibility.”

The grant’s principal aim is to foster collaborations between basic and clinical researchers to develop standardized, quantitative behavioral and neurochemical measures that can be used to establish fundamental homology between human and animal cognitive tasks relevant to schizophrenia.

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a $299,534 continuation grant to Bambang Parmanto of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences’ health information management department.

The main objectives of his study are to address barriers to information technology for people with disabilities (particularly visual, dexterity and intellectual impairments), including computer access barriers and Internet inaccessibility.

Charles Perfetti of the Learning Research and Development Center has received a new grant of $252,280 from the U.S. Department of Education for a Pitt-Carnegie Mellon University project that will apply statistical language models to the development of texts promoting students’ growth in vocabulary and reading comprehension. Pitt’s part of the project involves experimental studies of comprehension and vocabulary with adult and children readers.

The National Institute on Aging has awarded $258,805 to the School of Medicine’s G. David Roodman to continue his research project, “Developmental Aspects of Osteoclast Formation In Vitro.”

Wen Xie of the School of Pharmacy’s pharmaceutical sciences department has received a $279,848 continuation grant from the National Cancer Institute for his project, “Orphan Receptor PXR Controlled Bile Acid Detoxification in Colon Cancer.”

The study’s long-term goal is to determine the molecular mechanisms by which PXR (an orphan nuclear receptor) regulates bile acid detoxification and the implication of this regulation in preventing colon cancer. The United States has one of the world’s highest rates of colon cancer, and toxic bile acids are known to promote the disease.

MRI spectroscopy predicts outcomes in women with chest pain

Innovations in tracking biochemical changes in heart function following minor stress testing may help clinicians to predict cardiovascular outcome in women, a multi-center study from the Women’s Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation (WISE) has found. Results of the WISE study were published in the June 22 edition of Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association.

“Since women often have nonspecific symptoms of heart disease, this new procedure could have great diagnostic benefit – particularly for those women who have no discernible arterial blockage,” said B. Delia Johnson, epidemiology faculty research associate at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) and the study’s first author. “Chest pain radiating down the left arm, tightness and cold sweats are typical signs of a heart attack that many people know. But in women, the disease frequently reveals itself in less obvious ways such as breathing difficulties, vague symptoms of indigestion and shoulder or back pain.”

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) spectroscopy, which analyzes biochemical balance within heart cells, researchers monitored changes in the myocardial compounds phosphocreatine (PCr) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) after minor stress testing. The ratio of these biochemicals has been shown to predict risk of cardiovascular death in patients with dilated cardiomyopathy, or chronic weakening and enlargement of the heart muscle. The most recent study attempted to evaluate its diagnostic potential for women with no clinical signs of coronary artery disease (CAD).

Evaluated were 74 women participating in the WISE study who did not have CAD and a reference group of 352 women, also WISE participants, who had an angiographic diagnosis of CAD. WISE is a National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute-sponsored four-center study of women undergoing clinically ordered coronary angiography for chest pain or suspected arterial blockage.

MRI evaluation for PCr/ATP ratio was done at rest and following exercise by handgrip squeezing. Blood pressure and pulse rate also were monitored. To obtain information about subsequent cardiac events, follow-up interviews were conducted by telephone after six weeks and then again yearly, with a median follow-up time of slightly more than three years.

Among the 74 women without CAD who underwent MRI evaluation, 14 had subsequent cardiovascular complications – mostly admissions for severe chest pain. There were no deaths or heart attacks.

“Those who had an abnormal MRI had higher rates of hospitalization for chest pain and for repeat angiography compared to those with normal MRI results,” said Johnson, explaining that 36 percent of those with abnormal MRI were hospitalized for angina compared to 12 percent of those with normal results. For repeat angiography, rates were 21 percent of abnormal MRI patients as opposed to 3 percent of those with normal MRI findings. Rates were comparable to those among the 352 WISE reference women with CAD (34 percent and 30 percent, respectively).

Symptoms tended to endure among the study participants, resulting in a greater degree of functional limitation over time. This was true despite adjustments for other heart disease risk factors such as age, smoking status, obesity, diabetes, cholesterol levels and family history.

“Women with no discernible arterial blockage who have persistent chest pain or other symptoms present a challenge to the diagnostician,” Johnson said. “Cardiovascular MRI shows great promise as a new strategy for evaluating these women.”

The study was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health and by grants from the Gustavus and Louis Pfeiffer Research Foundation, Danville, N.J.; the Women’s Guild of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles; the Ladies Hospital Aid Society of Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh; QMED Inc., Laurence Harbor, N.J.; and the Veterans Affairs Medical Research Service.

Additional authors included Marian B. Olson and Sheryl F. Kelsey of GSPH and researchers from Atlanta Cardiovascular Research Institute; the University of Alabama, Birmingham; Cedars-Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles; the University of Florida, Gainesville; Rhode Island Hospital, Providence; Western Pennsylvania Allegheny Hospital, Pittsburgh; and the University of Southern California.

SIS institute to study online users

Pitt’s Sara Fine Institute for Interpersonal Behavior and Technology has received a grant of nearly $500,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS), the federal agency that supports the nation’s 15,000 museums and 122,000 libraries.

Researchers at the Sara Fine Institute will conduct a national study of information needs and expectations of users and potential users of online information, and the effects of having such information.

“The online information environment has changed dramatically since the earliest online systems emerged in the 1960s,” said institute director José-Marie Griffiths, principal investigator of the project. She holds the Doreen E. Boyce Chair for Library and Information Science in Pitt’s School of Information Sciences (SIS).

“Growth has occurred both in the number of users of online information and the number of online information resources and providers. Museums and libraries have been particularly affected by these changes,” she said. “IMLS has commissioned this study to provide critical information and recommendations as how best to serve users in this new online world. The work we have already been carrying out at the Sara Fine Institute provides a foundation for this study, and we are delighted that IMLS has chosen us to further extend such research.”

A preliminary model of the online information universe brings together the size, scope, and complexity of the population of users and non-users, their information needs, and use of various sources, providers, access modes, and information content. The project team will conduct an iterative process with the model to focus and narrow a set of research questions that will lead to the final design of a national survey to be conducted in 2005.

Data from that survey will be used to provide recommendations about the mechanisms and resources necessary to efficiently and effectively connect users to online content. While many previous studies have focused on certain aspects of the online world and its users, Griffiths said, no study to date has taken this far-reaching approach. “We want to acknowledge the social use of access to knowledge,” she said. “There has been much work on the technical side, but we need to catch up on the human side. Our study will focus on what people actually need, not just on what has been provided to them.”

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