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Innovation & Results

Study May Help Ice ALS

If gene mutations were people, the mutation found on gene C9ORF72 would be a notorious criminal. About two years ago, it was first linked to the fatal, muscle-wasting disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—Lou Gehrig’s disease. Since then, the mutation has been implicated in an ever-expanding list of diseases including Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.

But, like detectives without a murder weapon, researchers haven’t understood how the C9ORF72 mutation sabotages normal cell functions. Now, Jiou Wang, PhD, an assistant professor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and colleagues may have an answer. In a recent study, the team uncovered a series of unfortunate molecular events—from mutation to pathology—that could influence how we treat ALS symptoms—and even identify its root cause.

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Taking Arsenic Off the Menu

The FDA is rethinking what America puts into its meat, thanks, in part, to a study authored by the Bloomberg School's Keeve Nachman, PhD '06, MHS '01.

In October 2013, the agency revoked approvals for three widely used arsenic-based drugs used for years to speed growth in chickens and turkeys. The FDA's move followed Nachman's study which demonstrated that the drugs, when used in animal production, increase levels of inorganic arsenic, a carcinogenic compound.

“We are glad that the FDA and drug companies have bowed to public health concerns about using arsenic to produce chickens and turkeys, but the agency still has work to do,” says Nachman, with the School's Center for a Livable Future. Nitarsone, a fourth arsenic-based drug, remains available for use in poultry production.

And so Nachman’s fight continues.

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Drink Your Broccoli

A cocktail of sterilized water, pineapple, lime juice and dissolved freeze-dried broccoli sprout powder may not sound especially appealing. But it’s got quite a kick, when it comes to detoxing the body of harmful pollutants.

In a recent clinical trial, toxicologists John Groopman, PhD, and Thomas Kensler, PhD, both professors in Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School, working with colleagues at several U.S. and Chinese institutions, served the broccoli drink to about 300 people living in one of China’s most polluted regions.

The group that drank the beverage cleared their bodies of the carcinogen benzene and the lung irritant acrolein at dramatically increased rates. When consumed, the sprouts generate sulforaphane, a plant compound that enhances the body’s detoxing abilities.

The take away? Food-based strategies could be an important—and affordable—component to curb long-term health risks of air pollution, which causes as many as 7 million deaths annually.

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Extinguishing Killer Cook Stoves

Would you barbeque in your living room? Probably not. Unfortunately, for 3 billion people worldwide, choking smoke from an indoor cooking fire is a daily hazard that leads to almost 4 million deaths per year.

To combat this problem, an unlikely team—International Health doctoral student Suzanne Pollard, Ken Banks, a Baltimore real estate developer and member of the Bloomberg School's Health Advisory Board, and Hopkins engineering students—are working on a solution. Utilizing a new hood and chimney model, the team is developing a prototype of a low-cost unit designed to dramatically reduce smoke in the home. They hope to deploy it soon in rural Peru where nearly 80 percent of residences don’t have chimneys to vent smoke from their cooking fires.

"Finding a solution,” says Pollard, “ ... could have a huge public health impact."

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Seeds of Change

Faculty and students of the Bloomberg School have discovered just how fertile a garden can be.

They're working with vulnerable women in Afghanistan, faith-based groups in Baltimore and tribal communites in the American Southwest, where Native-American children have dangerously high rates of obesity and diabetes, to determine whether planting communal vegetable gardens can inspire healthier habits, empower gardeners and strengthen group bonds.

Preliminary results are promising, say leaders of gardening programs at the School's Johns Hopkins Center for American-Indian Health and the Center for a Livable Future.

They'll be scrutinizing the data closely for evidence of improved nutrition and greater food security.

Find out how the School is digging in the dirt to grow health, hope—and vegetables.

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