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U of MD unveils survivorship guide for African-American women

University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers have teamed with Sisters Network, Inc., a national African-American breast cancer survivorship organization, to create a patient education video to help African-American women not only survive but thrive following their breast cancer diagnosis.

The 30-minute educational video was produced to address the special challenges African-American breast cancer survivors face. It presents evidence-based guidelines developed by the Institute of Medicine in 2006 to help cancer survivors make a plan of follow-up care that promotes a healthy lifestyle and help prevent the recurrence of their cancer.

The video was produced as part of a research study led by Renee Royak-Schaler, Ph.D., funded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

"Developing feasible plans for self-care after breast cancer can be a daunting task, and this is particularly true for African-Americans, whose risk of recurrence and poor health outcomes is greater than for Caucasian patients. Many women don't have a clear plan for follow-up care after their initial treatment, which can seriously affect their overall health and well-being," says Dr. Royak-Schaler, an associate professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine.

Breast cancer deaths are 38 percent higher in African-American women than in white women. This disparity has been linked to lack of access to primary health care and being diagnosed at a later stage when the disease is less treatable. Many African-American women also have what is known as "triple-negative" breast cancer, which doesn't respond as well to therapy.

"Sisters Network is pleased to collaborate with University of Maryland School of Medicine to increase breast cancer survivorship awareness," says Karen Jackson, founder and chief executive officer of Sisters Network, Inc. "Women need to know that survivorship is not only about defeating cancer, but adopting a healthy, active lifestyle that hopefully will prevent the cancer from returning."

The video features African-American breast cancer survivors talking about their experiences Stacy D. Garrett-Ray, M.D., a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor of family and community medicine, and Cynthia L. Drogula, M.D., a breast surgeon and assistant professor of surgery.

"It's imperative that breast cancer survivors communicate with their doctors and understand what they need to do to take good care of themselves. Eating a healthy diet and exercising are very important. Taking part in a support group can also be very helpful in dealing with all the unique challenges of life after cancer," Dr. Garrett-Ray says. She is also medical director of the Baltimore City Cancer Program at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, which provides free cervical and breast cancer screening for uninsured women in Baltimore.

"We hope that this video will prove to be a useful educational tool not only for African-American breast cancer survivors but also the doctors who care for them," Dr. Garrett-Ray says.

Source: Dr. Renee Royak-Schaler, University of Maryland School of Medicine
Writer: Walaika Haskins


JHPIEGO named Daily Record's Innovator of the Year

Jhpiego, an international non-profit health care organization affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, has been selected as The Daily Record's 2009 Innovator of the Year Awards.

"We are honored to be named a 2009 Innovator of the Year by The Daily Record," says Dr. Leslie Mancuso, president and CEO of Jhpiego. "At Jhpiego, we are dedicated to saving the lives of women and their families. We do that by taking the science and creativity of Johns Hopkins University and use that knowledge to create low-cost health solutions that can be utilized in remote locations with few resources, like running water or electricity around the world.."

The Daily Record began the Innovator of the Year Awards in 2002 as a way to recognize Marylanders and Maryland-based companies for their innovative spirit – for creating new products, new programs, new services, or new processes that have helped their companies, industries, or communities.

There were more than 80 nominations for the 2009 awards nominated by readers, economic development agencies, chambers of commerce, and the business community at large. Nominees are then asked to complete an application, which explains their innovation, and the impact it has made on Maryland.

A renowned panel of judges reviewed the applications and whittled the list down to 25 winners for 2009, including the top Innovator of the Year. The winners were honored on October 14 at a cocktail reception, held at Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum. Winners also were profiled in a special magazine that was included in the October 16 issue of The Daily Record.

Source: Leslie Mancuso, Jhpiego
Writer: Walaika Haskins

Saint Agnes gets latest in mammography technology

Using a grant  for $20,200 from the Verizon Foundation, the Saint Agnes Foundation has purchased a special printer to complement Saint Agnes Hospital's new digital mammography equipment.

"Digital mammography is the most up-to-date technology in terms of breast imaging," says Diana Griffiths, medical director of the Saint Agnes Breast Center. "It gives us better visualization, particularly in women under the age of 50 and women who have dense breasts. The printer is a much-needed piece of the process."

The new digital mammography machine ensures that every mammogram done at Saint Agnes will be digital. With the new printer, Saint Agnes has the capacity to print film – or x-rays – when requested by referring physicians for patients who have abnormal mammograms. Patients and their physicians then can share and review those films.

Saint Agnes's digital mammography machine was installed earlier this month. Funding for the mammography machine, which cost $711,000, came from a federal program.

"We are so fortunate that our friends at the Verizon Foundation could contribute the funds for such a necessary piece of equipment," says Sherry Welch, president of the Saint Agnes Foundation.

Source: Diana Griffiths,

JHU study show health care costs challenge for non-profs

While much of the attention in the current debate over health care concentrates on the impact of escalating health care costs on small businesses and the uninsured, new data from the Johns Hopkins Nonprofit Listening Post Project shows that health care costs are also producing a heretofore unnoticed crisis for the country's nonprofit organizations and the nearly 13 million workers they employ.

Nearly all, 98 percent, of the responding nonprofits offering health benefits indicated that they are concerned about their organization's health care costs, with 59 percent ranking health care costs as one of their organization's top challenges.

The impact is already being felt as organizations decide to stop offering, or reduce coverage of, health benefits; institute higher employee co-pays and shares of insurance costs; and in pressures to hold down wages, shift to part-time employees, and even reduce mission-critical services.

The nonprofit workforce is the fourth largest industry in the U.S. A labor of love for most, employees generally work on lower pay scales. Nonprofits take a greater hit because thier health benefit costs are unusually high since nonprofit employers have used decent benefits packages to attract and retain quality staff. With health benefit costs steadily rising those flush benefits packages are no longer possible for large numbers of nonprofits, according to the July 2009 survey conducted by Johns Hopkins researchers.

"The evidence is now in," noted Lester Salamon, report author and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies. "Escalating health insurance costs are taking a dramatic toll on our nation's nonprofits and the devoted employees who work for them."

Other findings from the Johns Hopkins health benefits survey include:

  • A striking 80 percent of the nonprofit respondents reported offering health insurance coverage for their employees. Nevertheless, the proportion not offering such coverage rose by 62 percent compared to the results from a comparable survey in 2004.
  • Virtually all (99 percent) of the large nonprofits responding reported offering health benefits to employees but less than half (46 percent) of the smallest organizations did, and cost was a major factor at work.
  • Nearly three out of every four nonprofits offering health benefits reported that their organization's total direct health insurance costs increased during the past year, and for over a third of the respondents the increase was over 10 percent—well above the national average of 5 percent per year.

Writer: Walaika Haskins
Source: Lester Salamon, Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies


Hopkins scientists discovery helps cells regain their shape

Johns Hopkins scientists have discovered the molecular sensor that lets cells not only "feel" changes to their shapes, but also helps them regain their ready-to-split symmetry. In a study published September 15 in Current Biology, the researchers explain that two force-sensitive proteins accumulate at the sites of cell-shape disturbances and cooperate first to sense the changes and then to resculpt the cells. The proteins — myosin II and cortexillin I — monitor and correct shape changes in order to ensure smooth division.

"What we found is an exquisitely tuned mechanosensory system that keeps the cells shipshape so they can divide properly," says Douglas N. Robinson, Ph.D., an associate professor of Cell Biology, Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Faulty cell division can put organisms, including people, on the pathway to diseases such as cancer. Abetter understanding of how cells respond to mechanical stress on their shapes could lead to new technologies for diagnosing and treating such diseases.

Researchers worked with single-celled protozoa that move and divide similarly to human cells, and watched through microscopes while they deformed the cells' shapes with a tiny instrument that, like a soda straw, sucks in on the cell surface and creates distorted shapes.

During the experiments, as soon as the two proteins accumulated to a certain level, the cells contracted, escaped the pipettes and reassumed their original shapes. Once the cells had returned to their proper shape, the accumulated proteins realigned along the cells' midlines and pinched to divide symmetrically into two daughter cells.

Writer: Walaika Haskins
Source: Douglas Robinson, JHUSM


Study finds surgical soap cuts infections

Bathing critically ill hospital patients with the same antibacterial agent used by surgeons to "scrub in" prior to performing an operation can reduce the number of patients infected with potentially deadly bloodstream infections by as much as 73 percent, according to a new study by patient safety experts at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and five other institutions.

Bloodstream infections impact about one in five patients in hospital intensive care units increasing their chance of dying by as much 25 percent. In cases were they are not fatal, these infections can significantly increase the average length of hospital stays by seven days and add as much as $40,000 in costs.

The study tracked daily neck-to-toe sponge baths with a mild, 4 percent solution of chlorhexidine glutonate, given to 2,650 ICU patients at six different U.S. hospitals. Chlorhexidine glutonate is the same antibacterial agent used by surgeons while scrubbing in for an operation and by dentists as a potent mouthwash to guard against gum disease.

Weekly swab testing showed that 32 percent fewer patients had signs of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and 50 percent fewer cases of vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE), when compared to a similar number of ICU patients (2,670) at the same hospitals who were washed with just plain soap and water. MRSA and VRE are the two most common superbugs affecting hospital patients. 

"Doing everything possible to ward of bloodstream infections and halt the spread of these dangerous bacteria is essential to safeguarding our patients' well-being, encouraging their speedy recovery and sparing valuable hospital resources," says study co-investigator Trish Perl, M.D., director of hospital epidemiology and infection control at Johns Hopkins.

Writer: Walaika Haskins
Source: Trish Perl, Johns Hopkins Hospital

New anticancer drug tests looking good

Researchers at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center involved in a preliminary study of the Hedgehog signaling pathway report positive responses to an experimental anticancer drug in a majority of people with advanced or metastatic basal cell skin cancers. One patient with the most common type of pediatric brain cancer, medulloblastoma, also showed tumor shrinkage.

Initial results of the drug trial, conducted at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, the Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit and the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Scottsdale, Ariz. are published online in the Sept. 3 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. The publication also details side effects of the drug, including muscle cramping, hair loss, fatigue and low blood sodium.

Known as GDC-0449, the compound is designed to inhibit the Hedgehog signaling pathway, which researchers believe fuels the growth of some cancers. The pathway was originally named for the oblong hedgehog-like shape of fly embryos when a key gene in the pathway is disrupted.

Related research by Johns Hopkins and Genentech investigators reported online in the Sept. 3 issue of Science Express reveals more findings on the medulloblastoma case.

"We know that both of these cancer types have mutations in Hedgehog pathway genes, and our results with Hedgehog inhibitors could be the starting point for developing a new type of therapy for these intractable cancers," says Charles Rudin, M.D., Ph.D., associate director for Clinical Research at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

In the Phase I clinical study, 33 patients with advanced basal cell skin cancer were treated with GDC-0449, an oral drug made by Genentech. Patients were enrolled at Johns Hopkins, Wayne State University's Karmanos Cancer Center, and the Translational Genomics Research Institute.

Writer: Walaika Haskins
Source: Dr. Charles Rudin, John Hopkns Kimmel Cancer Center

U of MD researchers testing immunotheraphy drug for new diabetes-1 patients

Researchers at the University of Maryland Joslin Diabetes Center are testing whether a novel immunotherapy drug, otelixizumab, will help prevent the destruction of insulin-producing cells in patients newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The center is the only site in Maryland and just 1 of 100 sites in North America and Europe taking part in the Phase III clinical trial.

In type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system attacks the pancreas' beta cells. People with the disease use regular insulin injections to help them process sugar. Patients have about 20 percent of their functioning beta cells left when they are first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, according to Thomas W. Donner, M.D., lead investigator of the University of Maryland study.

"Preserving these remaining beta cells would be very beneficial to patients. Studies have shown that when type 1 diabetes patients are still making some of their own insulin, their blood sugar levels are much easier to control and they require less insulin," says Dr. Donner, medical director of the Joslin Diabetes Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "If this therapy proves to be effective, it could potentially lead to fewer low blood sugar reactions and complications from diabetes in the future."

The clinical trial, the Durable-Response Therapy Evaluation for Early or New-Onset Type 1 Diabetes, is called DEFEND-1, is sponsored by Tolerx, Inc., a Cambridge, Mass., company that is producing the drug in conjunction with GlaxoSmithKline. The study is also being funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.


Writer: Walaika Haskins
Source: Dr. Thomas Donner, U of MD

$11.2M NIH grant gives U of MD Med School lead in heart failure study

A new $11.2 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will enable researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and three other centers to improve the treatment of chronic heart failure. This multifaceted research program is the largest effort of its kind to focus on a basic question in heart failure whether nutritional changes impact heart function helping patients with a failing heart.

The heart, like the rest of the body, needs fuel to work properly.Food is transformed into the electrical energy that causes the heart to pump during metabolism. Impaired metabolism is both a cause and effect of heart failure. Cell structures known as mitochondria are at the center of the process.

"Years of untreated high blood pressure or loss of cardiac tissue and scarring after a heart attack cause certain mitochondria to develop defects," says William C. Stanley, Ph.D., professor of medicine and director of cardiovascular sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who leads the research program. "Different substances from food affect the mitochondria in different ways. We want to improve those defective mitochondria and prevent the mitochondria from going bad when they are constantly under stress."

Dr. Stanley and investigators at three other institutions, Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, and New York Medical College, have collaborated for 10 years. Their work, funded with a previous NIH grant, has already produced 85 peer-reviewed journal publications and has provided many insights into the causes and results of heart failure.

Dr. Stanley and his team will investigate new dietary changes to prevent and treat heart failure. Their hypothesis is that the electrical abnormalities that lead to heart failure can be reversed by consumption of a diet low in carbohydrates and sugar, and high in polyunsaturated fat. "We want to figure out how to improve this transfer of energy so the function of the heart is maintained in the early stages of heart failure or even before heart failure has been established," he says.

Writer: Walaika Haskins
Source: Dr. William Stanley, U of MD School of Medicine


Champions Biotechnology advancing therapeutic oncology tech

Champions Biotechnology, a developer of advanced preclinical platforms and tumor specific data designed to enhance and accelerate the
value of oncology drugs, will deploy its Biomerk Tumorgraft platform to guide development of new oncology therapeutics.

The platform enables identification of the most promising development path possible cancer therapies in terms of indication, drug combination, and target patient population. The platform also has the potential to identify gene pathways of response and resistance as well as prognostic molecular biomarkers.

"We are excited to continue the growth of our impressive client base and begin working with one of the most respected global leaders in the discovery and development of novel therapies," says Doug Burkett, Ph.D., President of Champions Biotechnology, Inc.

"Studies suggest that evaluation of oncology compounds through our Biomerk Tumorgraft platform will lead to more successful and efficient clinical development. The value-added by an optimally targeted, more efficient clinical path can result in cost savings, improved clinical and commercial success and significantly more years of patent life following commercialization," he adds.

Writer: Walaika Haskins
Source: Doug Burkett, Champions Biotechnology, Inc.


New DNA test uses nanotechnology to hunt down early signs of cancer

Johns Hopkins University (JHU) researchers have developed a highly sensitive test that searches for DNA attachments that often serve as early warning signs of cancer. The new technology uses tiny crystals called quantum dots to detect the presence and quantity of certain DNA changes. It could be used to detect people at risk for developing cancer and let doctors know the effectiveness of a particular cancer treatment.

Published in the August issue of the journal Genome Research, the test was developed by Jeff Tza-Huei Wang, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Center.

"If it leads to early detection of cancer, this test could have huge clinical implications," said Jeff Tza-Huei Wang, an associate professor of mechanical engineering whose lab team played a leading role in developing the technique. "Doctors usually have the greatest success in fighting cancer if they can treat it in its early stage."

Writer: Walaika Haskins

Source: JHU

Baltimore ranks No. 3 in jobs

In a nationwide survey comparing job postings to the number of unemployed, Baltimore earned the No. 3 spot.

According to Indeed.com, an online job hunting site, there's one job for each unemployed person in the city. The survey looked at the top 50 metropolitan areas in the U.S. based on its index of over 50 million jobs posted each year.

Washington, D.C. came in first place with a total of six jobs for every unemployed person, while Jacksonville took the No. 2 slot with employers there offering 3 jobs for each unemployed resident.

Writer: Walaika Haskins
Source: Indeed.com


e-Documents for docs adds up to success

Salar Inc., an electronic documentation firm located in Fells Point, is growing. The company recently added the Greater Baltimore Medical Center and the George Washington University Hospital to its roster of clients.

Salar's bread and butter is the healthcare industry. Founded in 1999, the company takes traditional paper-based physicians notes and puts them into an electronic format, which boosts productivity and enhances hospital revenues.

Both the Greater Baltimore Medical Center and the George Washington University Hospital have contracted with Salar to bring clinicians at both hospitals TeamNotes, which enables physicians to create medical forms, including daily notes, admission notes and discharge notes electronically on desktops, laptops, and tablet PCs.

"Our ultimate goal is to maximize the amount of time physicians spend interacting with and treating patients and minimize the time occupied with completing paperwork and correcting billing errors," says Salar president Todd Johnson.

President Barack Obama has made the shift to electronic medical records a priority that he would like to see accomplished within the next five years. With less than 10 percent of the 5,000 hospitals in the U.S. and just under 20 percent of the 800,000 doctors currently using computerized records, there is plenty of potential for growth for Salar.

Johns Hopkins Hospital, UMass Memorial Health Care and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center also use Salar's technology.

Writer: Walaika Haskins
Source: Todd Johnson, president, Salar, Inc.
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