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October 10, 2002


Pitt leads 1st government funded study of anorexia nervosa

Researchers at Pitt’s School of Medicine will lead the first government-funded genetic study of anorexia nervosa.

The National Institute of Mental Health-funded study is a five-year grant, with more than $10 million in funding, which brings together 11 groups of researchers from North America and Europe (10 clinical centers and one to analyze data) to find regions of the human genome that contain genes that influence risk for anorexia. To find these regions, the researchers will recruit families with two or more members, mainly siblings, who have or had anorexia nervosa, and analyze the DNA from the participants.

“There is no known treatment for anorexia nervosa. Studies such as this one should help us understand how differences in the genes of some individuals contribute to this illness. These findings should help develop truly effective therapies,” said Walter H. Kaye, Pitt professor of psychiatry and co-principal investigator.

The research will build on recent genetic studies supported by the Price Foundation, a private, European-based foundation that included most of the same investigators. Bernie Devlin, Pitt associate professor of psychiatry and co-principal investigator, noted that the Price Foundation studies already have pointed to four regions of the genome to look for genes affecting susceptibility to anorexia. Because this is such a complex disease, a large number of families will be needed to understand the genetic basis.

According to Wade Berrettini, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and co-principal investigator, finding 400 families with two or more members with anorexia nervosa will be a challenge.

Anorexia nervosa is a potentially lethal illness. The eating disorder is characterized by the relentless pursuit of thinness, the obsessive fear of gaining weight, and emaciation. It commonly begins during adolescence in girls and it runs in families.

For more information on how to participate, call 1-888/895-3886 or visit the web site at


Prof gets grant

James H-C. Wang, an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery, bioengineering, and mechanical engineering has been awarded a $20,000 research grant from the Alternatives Research & Development Foundation.

The grant is titled “A Novel Approach to Study Biological Mechanisms for Tendinitis.” Wang has developed an in vitro model system that allows direct cyclic mechanical stretching of human tendon fibroblasts and allows study of the cellular and mechanical mechanisms responsible for the development of tendinitis, a common tendon disorder affecting millions of people in the United States.

The proposed studies will offer insights into the genesis of tendinitis and will potentially offer new strategies to prevent and treat tendinitis more effectively. Wang is a faculty member of the Musculoskeletal Research Center (MSRC), Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.


Pharmacy researcher wins award

Rajkumar Banerjee, research associate in the pharmacy school’s Center for Pharmacogenetics, received a Sass Foundation for Medical Research Inc. award for research in the field of cancer biology. Banerjee was one of only two researchers in the country to receive this fellowship.

Banerjee was awarded the fellowship for his abstract titled “Targeted Cancer Therapy for Human Prostate Cancer via Sigma Receptor.”

Banerjee’s research focuses on targeted cancer therapy by developing vectors, and with the help of these vectors, to deliver therapeutically important bioactive molecules like anti-cancer drugs and therapeutic genes to the tumor.

He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1992 and master’s degree in 1994, both at Jadapuvar University in Calcutta, India. In 2000, Banerjee received his Ph.D. at the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology in Hyderabad, India.

The SASS Foundation was established in 1986 by Martin and Barbara Sass, along with Francis P. Arena, as a non-profit, non-sectarian organization dedicated to fighting cancer and related life threatening diseases, educating physicians and the public on the newest therapies and treatments and funding research projects aimed at combating these diseases.


MSRC awarded $1.3 million

Savio L-Y. Woo, the A.B. Ferguson Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and director of Pitt’s Musculoskeletal Research Center (MSRC), recently was awarded a $1.3 million grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a study entitled “In situ Forces in Normal and Reconstructed ACLs.”

Total NIH grant funding for the MSRC now exceeds $11 million. Co-investigators include Richard E. Debski, an assistant professor in the departments of orthopaedic surgery and bioengineering, and Freddie H. Fu, the David Silver Professor and chairperson of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at UPMC Health System.

The research project is also in collaboration with Scott Lephart of the Neuromuscular Research Laboratory and Molly Vogt of orthopaedic surgery and epidemiology, as well as with consultant Thomas Andriacchi of Stanford University. Together, they will use innovative approaches to determine the in situ force distribution of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and ACL replacement graft during activities of daily living. This marks the fourth time that the NIH has renewed this project.

The incidence of injury to the ACL has been increasing. Further, in some sports, the rate of ACL injury for female athletes is three times that for males. While ACL reconstruction is a common treatment for such injuries, ACL replacement surgery using autografts is being performed 75,000-100,000 times per year in the United States alone, and the results have not been consistent in restoring knee function to pre-injury levels.

Over 35 percent of patients have been reported to have complications or unstable knees shortly after reconstruction while long-term follow-up at five to 10 years also has revealed that 15-25 percent of patients have unsatisfactory results. Therefore, research efforts to better understand the forces in ACL replacement grafts during in vivo activities and to compare them with the intact ACL are needed to design better surgical approaches and rehabilitation protocols.

The objective is to measure the in situ force distribution in the ACL and ACL replacement graft during activities of daily living and rehabilitation exercises. In addition, rehabilitation exercises will be rank-ordered according to the forces in the ACL replacement graft.

A newly developed robotic/universal force-moment sensor (UFS) testing system will be employed to determine the force distribution of the ACL and ACL replacement graft in cadaveric knees based on in vivo kinematic data obtained from healthy volunteers and ACL-deficient patients.

Also, the data obtained can contribute to the design of appropriate post-operative rehabilitation regimens that are scientifically based.

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