Notebook

Concerns over governance have nixed a merger between New York's Mount Sinai and New York University medical centers. The proposed venture, announced in June (M.E. Watanabe, The Scientist, Aug. 19, 1996, page 1), would have united the hospitals and medical schools of the two institutions. But according to a report in the February 15 New York Times (E.B. Fein, page 25), the deal fell through because Mount Sinai and NYU could not agree on who would control the combined medical school. Sources told

Mar 17, 1997
The Scientist Staff

Concerns over governance have nixed a merger between New York's Mount Sinai and New York University medical centers. The proposed venture, announced in June (M.E. Watanabe, The Scientist, Aug. 19, 1996, page 1), would have united the hospitals and medical schools of the two institutions. But according to a report in the February 15 New York Times (E.B. Fein, page 25), the deal fell through because Mount Sinai and NYU could not agree on who would control the combined medical school. Sources told the Times that Mount Sinai saw the school as "an independent entity involving equal partnership between the two sides," while NYU "wanted the medical school to be an integral part of its university, like its law school, film school, and other divisions." Neither John W. Rowe, Mount Sinai's president, nor NYU dean Saul Farber returned calls from The Scientist seeking comment. In a joint statement, the institutions noted that they "could not find the appropriate way to combine the academic components." However, they expressed hope that they could "continue the many areas of collaboration that pre-existed our talks, as well as others we discovered in the process."


Nobel laureate D. Carleton Gajdusek will be sentenced next month after pleading guilty in February to sexually abusing a Micronesian boy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The victim, who was less than 17 years of age when the offenses took place, was one of 56 children Gajdusek has brought from Micronesia-the site of much of his research-to live with him in his Maryland home since the 1960s. Under an agreement worked out with prosecutors, Gajdusek will spend up to a year in jail and be permitted to leave the United States to conduct research upon his release. In addition, other federal and state sexual-abuse charges were dropped. Had the case gone to trial and Gajdusek been convicted, he could have been imprisoned for up to 30 years. The day the plea agreement was announced, he retired from his post as chief of the National Institutes of Health's Laboratory for Central Nervous System Studies. Gajdusek's attorney, Mark J. Hulkower of the Washington, D.C., firm Steptoe and Johnson, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.


Photo: Lynn Gambale

NEEDLE EXCHANGE: AIDS activists hail a recent report from HHS secretary Donna Shalala acknowledging the benefits of programs such as Prevention Point Philadelphia.
On February 13, a National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference on Interventions to Prevent HIV Risk Behavior concluded that needle-exchange programs, in which dirty, used syringes are exchanged for clean ones (S. Benowitz, The Scientist, Feb. 3, 1997, page 1), are an effective method to prevent disease spread while not increasing addiction. Five days later, Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Donna Shalala released recommendations to Congress noting that scientific studies had shown that needle-exchange programs "can be an effective component of a comprehensive strategy to prevent HIV" infections and "can have an impact on bringing difficult to reach populations" into drug treatment. Shalala stopped short of a formal recommendation that the government fund such programs, but AIDS advocates are optimistic. "Given society and the political environment in which we live-the war on drugs and all of that-for HHS to come out and say syringe exchange [programs] can make a difference is a giant step," says Mike Shriver, public policy director of the Washington-based National Association of People with AIDS. "For the [AIDS] community, however, nothing short of lifting the ban is what we want to hear." Shriver contends that AIDS advocates need to lobby Congress to encourage it to lift the ban. He notes that his organization has already met with White House representatives and HHS officials. "The White House has committed to working with us to develop a plan [regarding needle-exchange program support]. I think all of this signals a very strong commitment from the White House to try and have science drive policy."


The past few weeks have been busy ones for gene hunters. In late February, a group of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Cedars-Sinai Research Institute announced that they have homed in on the region of a gene that is likely associated with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease (B.P. Tsao et al., Journal of Clinical Investigation, 99:725-31, 1997). The team has narrowed down the location to an area containing about 500 genes on the long arm of chromosome 1. In addition, the group found that people with a marker for the lupus gene also had high levels of a type of antibody that reacts to the body's own healthy cells. This autoantibody is called IgG anti-chromatin and is associated with lupus. Earlier this month, scientists at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center; Duke University Medical Center; and the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) identified a gene that encodes a protein important in burning fat (C. Fleury et al., Nature Genetics, 15:269-72, 1997). The protein, called uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2), helps to metabolize excess calories as heat before they can be deposited as fat. The scientists surmise that this gene may help determine why some people can eat to their heart's content and never gain weight, while others must be constantly vigilant about their intake. "UCP2 is the first cloned gene likely to have a substantial effect on energy use, so this an important gene," says senior author Craig H. Warden, an assistant professor of pediatrics at UC-Davis. Researchers hope that understanding UCP2's biochemistry will help to combat obesity, anorexia, and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.



MOVIN’ ON: Outgoing FDA commissioner David Kessler will become Yale University School of Medicine dean on July 1.
Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner David Kessler is heading back to the Ivy League. The controversial, Harvard University-educated Kessler, who spent six years at FDA, will become dean of the Yale University School of Medicine on July 1. Local news reports in New Haven, Conn., hailed the appointment as a "coup" for Yale. Citing a desire to return to private life, Kessler, 45, surprised FDA officials by announcing his resignation in late November, causing concern about the agency's future leadership (S. Benowitz, The Scientist, Jan. 6, 1997, page 1). Kessler, who is both a pediatrician and a lawyer, is best known for his efforts to regulate smoking and the tobacco industry, working to curb tobacco advertising and teenagers' access to cigarettes. Kessler also had his detractors: Many in Congress thought he favored too much regulation, slowing down drug and medical device development. As a result, he was in constant conflict with congressional efforts to reform FDA.



GETTLER’S 'BOYS': Alexander Gettler, right, and colleagues in the first toxicology laboratory of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, City of New York, in a photo from 1922 or 1923.
New York City is the birthplace of American forensic toxicology, begun in 1918 when the newly established Medical Examiner's office hired chemist Alexander O. Gettler as its first toxicologist. Thus, it seemed ideal to hold a session to reminisce about the early days of the field with Gettler's former colleagues-now in their 70s and 80s and referred to as "the Gettler boys"-at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences' 49th annual meeting in New York, February 17-22. Organizers Marina Stajic, director of toxicology at the lab, and C. Nicholas Hodnett (a Gettler "grandson" who once worked for "Gettler boy" Irving Sunshine), director of toxicological and forensic science services for Westchester County, N.Y., hoped the "Gettler boys" would discuss the good old days when the lab did cutting-edge research with basic chemistry equipment of the time and a lot of ingenuity. For example, Gettler's lab first determined blood alcohol levels in intoxication. About 1918, Gettler and colleagues realized that alcohol consumption was related to traffic accidents. Gettler also founded the first graduate program in forensic toxicology, at New York University's Washington Square campus. But scheduling problems nixed the hoped-for reunion of the approximately half-dozen "Gettler boys" who attended the meeting. Hodnett says the Friday-afternoon presentation was held too late in the meeting; only one "Gettler boy" remained at the Marriott Marquis Hotel, and he refused to participate alone. "It was perhaps too formal a setting for them to just sit around and [recall] the good old days," Hodnett speculates. But the full personal history of forensic toxicology in New York City-complete with ribald anecdotes-will not be lost. Five "Gettler boys" met the morning before for two hours and reminisced on audiotape for the academy's historical archives. At present, plans call for the tape to be released "only among friends," Hodnett says.



SPEAKING OUT: William T. Greenough, a professor of psychiatry and cell and structural biology at the Beckman Institute in Urbana, Ill., addressed a Colorado town meeting.
Early last month, neuroscientists at the 30th annual Winter Conference on Brain Research opened up their investigations to the citizens of Breckenridge, Colo. For one evening, four scientists shared their insights on topics related to aging and the brain, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Nearly 150 town residents attended the talks, held in a restaurant banquet room in the Rocky Mountain ski resort. There was a standing-room-only crowd, reports Michael Zigmond, organizer of the event and conference director. Meeting organizers advertised throughout the community via television, radio, newspapers, and posters. "We wanted to use this as a demonstration that other organizations that have national meetings could model," says Zigmond, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh. "I would encourage others to try it as one more way to build public support for research." The group's public outreach also included presentations by nearly 30 conference members in the Breckenridge school district. For more information, contact Zigmond at the Department of Neuroscience, University of Pittsburgh, 570 Crawford Hall, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15260; (412) 624-4258. Fax: (412) 624-7327. E-mail: wcbr@bns.pitt.edu.


Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg, a president, emeritus, and the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation Scholar at Rockefeller University in New York (see Opinion, page 9), was the toast of both the Big Apple and Washington, D.C., last month. Lederberg received the Maxwell Finland Award for Scientific Achievement from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) on February 13 in Washington. Five days later, he was named recipient of the 1996 New York Mayor's Award for Excellence in Biological and Medical Sciences. At the NFID ceremony, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, received the foundation's inaugural Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Award for Humanitarian Contributions to Humankind. Lederberg says he was "obviously deeply gratified" to be honored with the Carters, whom he calls "great humanitarians who have lent much of their energy to helping us restore a global perspective about the problems of infectious disease." Regarding the New York award, Lederberg adds: "New York City, especially through its public schools, from grade school through Stuyvesant High, has given me enormous grounding and encouragement for my scientific career, and I am delighted to have been able to offer my public service in return."