Hopkins' loss is Emory University's gain

February 15, 1991|By Sue Miller | Sue Miller,Evening Sun Staff

Two Johns Hopkins University researchers are leaving one of the nation's top bone marrow transplantation teams in Baltimore to help build another at Emory University in Atlanta.

Dr. Rein Saral has been tapped to head Emory's bone marrow transplantation program and Dr. John R. Wingard to be the clinical director.

Saral and Wingard will be named to full professorships at Emory. Their appointments are effective July 1.

Saral has been a pioneer in the use of bone marrow transplantation in AIDS-related malignancies associated with HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus.

Emory officials, who announced the appointments Wednesday, said they plan to quadruple the size of the program to perform as many as 250 operations a year.

According to Valerie Matthews-Mehl, a Hopkins spokeswoman, Hopkins does between 150 and 200 bone marrow transplants a year.

Marrow transplantation actually is a transfusion process in which healthy marrow -- the gel-like tissues inside of bones that produce such immune system cells as white and red blood cells and platelets -- replaces destroyed tissue.

At Emory, the researchers said they plan to investigate the use of marrow transplantation in sickle cell patients with systemic or organ complications -- something that in the past has had little attention.

"Emory has committed major resources to not only do clinical work, which is very important, but to create the underpinnings of a major laboratory effort to address some of the remaining

problems that prevent transplantation from being universally successful," said Saral, 47.

It was this commitment, he explained, that lured him away from Hopkins.

Wingard, 43, described the Emory offer as "a very exciting opportunity, one that you couldn't walk away from."

Emory wants to expand its program and make it as large, if not larger than the one at Hopkins, he said. Hopkins is regarded as one of the country's top 10 bone marrow transplantation programs and that, Wingard added, is what Emory hopes to be.

"We want to investigate the application of marrow transplantation for sickle cell anemia because that is a significant public health problem for a very large group of patients in the Georgia area," Wingard said. "This really has not been done very much at all."

Saral explained that marrow transplantation could be very helpful in sickle cell patients "who begin to have real systemic or organ complications from the disease."

The oncologists also hope to expand on work begun at Hopkins, using marrow transplantation for lymphomas, a blood cancer frequently associated with acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

In 1989, a sophisticated test showed AIDS was cleared from a 41-year old male lymphoma patient who was treated at Hopkins with high doses of AZT, the anti-AIDS drug, and marrow transplantation.

The patient died 46 days after the transplant when he refused treatment for a recurrence of the blood cancer. That was too short a follow-up time to make any long-term statements about "how we impacted on the virus," according to Saral.

Since then, the researchers have treated and are following five other patients, but, he said, it is too early to talk about findings.

"At Emory, we're hoping we can demonstrate with a larger group of patients that we can have an effect on the AIDS virus," Saral said.

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