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November 21, 1996


Johnstown prof gets NIH grant

The National Institutes of Health have awarded a three-year, $261,395 grant to Johnstown campus assistant professor John W. Mullennix to investigate cognitive factors related to nicotine dependence.

Mullennix will study how smokers' memories of previous smoking experiences, and the expectancies they've built up about smoking, influence their smoking behaviors.


UPMC to provide defibrillation for cardiac victims at USX Tower

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has joined with Survivalink Corp. of Minneapolis and the Galbreath Co., owners of the USX Tower, to provide early defibrillation for cardiac arrest victims at the Downtown office building.

The research program, one of the first of its kind, is in response to a call by the American Heart Association for wider availability of defibrillation and to expand the scope of trained providers.

The great majority of heart attacks occur out of hospital and are due to ventricular fibrillation, in which the heart quivers in an uncoordinated manner and can't effectively pump blood. The only effective treatment is electrically countershocking the heart. The earlier this is performed, the greater the likelihood of survival and the less likelihood of neurologic damage.


Pitt captures sports medicine research prizes

Researchers in Pitt's Department of Orthopaedic Surgery captured all three GOTS-Beiersdorf Research Awards, the most highly paid research awards in sports medicine.

These awards were selected from world-wide competition and judged by an international jury. Prizes were awarded based on the significance of research for physical and sports activity, quality of methodology, innovation and contribution to and importance within scientific discourse.

Savio L-Y. Woo, A.B. Ferguson Professor of Ortho-paedic Surgery and director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Musculoskeletal Research Center, was honored with a first-place prize of 100,000 Deutsche marks (about $67,000) for biomechanical research that led to a precise description of forces on the anterior cruciate ligament, which spans the front of the knee and supports the joint. The prize money will fund undergraduate student research and a traveling fellowship for one graduate student to visit other laboratories.

Chris Evans, Henry J. Mankin Professor of Ortho-paedic Surgery and director of the Ferguson Laboratory, UPMC; Paul Robbins, associate professor of molecular genetics and biochemistry; and Freddie Fu, professor of orthopaedic surgery and medical director of UPMC's Center for Sports Medicine, received second-place honors. In their pre-clinical research, cells were genetically transformed to produce growth factors that aided healing of the lining of the bone, ligaments and meniscal tissue. The award is named for the joint efforts of Germany's Society for Orthopaedic-Traumatologic Sports Medicine and Beiersdorf, a German company that manufactures sports medicine products. The awards are intended to promote innovation and basic research in sports medicine and sports trauma-tology.


High bone mineral density can increase risk of breast cancer, according to study

Long-term exposure to estrogen, as measured by bone mineral density (BMD), can more than double the risk of breast cancer, according to a study led by Pitt researchers and reported in the Nov. 5 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. Estrogen replacement therapy often is prescribed to women for menopause to reduce hot flashes and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Women with the highest BMD of the wrist bone, hip or spine had more than twice the risk of breast cancer compared with women classified with the lowest measured BMD, according to the study.

Recent studies have shown that estrogen replacement therapy may reduce heart disease and increase BMD. However, many breast cancers are known to grow in response to estrogen, and most physicians do not recommend the therapy for women with a history of breast cancer or those at high risk for the disease.

Pitt scientists present findings at national genetics meeting Pitt researchers presented the following findings at the American Society for Human Genetics meeting, Oct. 29-Nov. 2.


Cancer genetics counseling proves important

Ninety percent of persons receiving counseling through a cancer genetics program found the consultation to be worth their time and money, according to a presentation by Mona Stadler, program coordinator and cancer genetics counselor, and John J. Mulvihill, program director and professor in Pitt's Department of Human Genetics, through a joint genetics program of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Magee-Womens Hospital.

The 51 out of 58 people who responded to a survey had consultations to explore DNA testing for predisposition to cancer and to understand the risk of cancer in themselves or relatives.

"We found that the majority of consultants had a high level of satisfaction and shared the information with their family members," Mulvihill said.

Stadler said, "We were very encouraged that 75 percent of women who had concerns about breast cancer risks were doing monthly breast self-examinations and that more than half had a follow-up mammogram within a year of counseling, despite their young age." DNA target associated with neurodegenerative disorders linked to cancer Since 1991, researchers have known that changes in trinucleotide repeats of DNA are important causes of inherited neurodegenerative disorders. Trinucleotide repeats occur when three nucleotide bases, the building blocks of DNA, are present in a repeating triplet.

Now, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute have found the first instance in which changes in these regions are related to cancer, offering new hope for early disease diagnosis and expanding the current understanding of how these repeats function in vastly different diseases.

In their work, Sharon Shriver, instructor in the Department of Pharmacology, and Jill Siegfried, associate professor of pharmacology, found that deletions or alterations in a gene they have named TDL are found in patients with lung cancer or cancer of the head and neck.

The ability to detect the TDL gene in people at high risk of cancer would be invaluable, particularly in lung cancer, for which no good early detection marker exists, researchers said.


New clues to oral cancer found

Investigators at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, together with researchers at Thomas Jefferson University's Kimmel Cancer Institute, have discovered disruptions in a putative tumor suppressor gene in 85 percent of oral cancer cell lines grown from 26 individuals, suggesting there may be an important role for these alterations in the development or progression of cancer.

The disruptions are in FHIT, a gene that sits on the short arm of chromosome 3 (3p14). This region is fragile and subject to breaks, which in turn lead to loss of DNA that interferes with the normal transcription of FHIT into a protein that appears to play a role in controlling cell proliferation.

A research team led by Susanne Gollin, a Pitt Cancer Institute researcher and associate professor in the University's human genetics department, found that two other chromosomal regions appeared to be damaged in oral cancer cells. Deletions sometimes appeared in chromosomal site 9p21 and amplifications sometimes occurred in chromosomal region 11p13. Amplifications are many extra copies of DNA.

"Tobacco and alcohol, carcinogens known to be involved in the development of oral cancer, may alter these chromosomal sites and contribute to the loss or gain of DNA, thereby inducing or exacerbating the development of cancer," said Gollin. She added that these sites might be important markers for oral cancer that could be used by clinicians to detect risk in precursors of oral cancer.

Additional studies are underway to define the role of FHIT and the abnormalities in 9p21 and 11p13 in oral cancer.

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