Genetics medical text in its 10th printingHere's one...

LIFE SCIENCES

August 25, 1992|By Liz Bowie

Genetics medical text in its 10th printing

Here's one measure of how far the field of genetics has come in the last 26 years: The father of medical genetics, Johns Hopkins University's Dr. Victor A. McKusick, recently celebrated the publication of the 10th edition of his book "Mendelian Inheritance in Man."

This first catalog of human genes was published in 1966 with 1,500 entries. Today's version has 5,710 entries.

Dr. McKusick is one of the leaders in the effort to map the human genome -- the 50,000 to 100,000 genes that make up inherited human traits. Such a map is expected to help doctors develop gene therapies to treat thousands of illnesses.

This fall, researchers at the National Institutes of Health, in conjunction with Genetic Therapy Inc. of Gaithersburg, are expected to do just that for brain tumors. If they get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the NIH researchers will insert a herpes simplex virus gene into a tumor in the human brain. The patient will then be given a drug designed to kill the cancer cells infected with the herpes virus.

While the tests are high risk, they are also a last resort. Researchers will begin with three brain cancer patients who have only months to live.

2 schools tackle need for lab technicians

Biotech executives in Baltimore say one of their biggest worries is whether they will find enough workers who are literate and have basic scientific knowledge. High school graduates are often not well enough educated to be laboratory technicians.

While the need may not be great right now, it could become a problem several years down the road if local companies began to manufacture products.

Baltimore's Dunbar and Southern high schools are going to try to fill that need.

Beginning in the fall of 1993, students who elect to take the courses will find themselves in the world of gene manipulation and cellular biology. Along with the basic science courses, students will learn applied skills -- how to keep a laboratory manual, how to spot a problem in a scientific experiment and some basic understanding of statistics for quality control.

"We want to create a program through which some students will be employable immediately and some will want to go on to the community college," said Maggie A. Caples, director of career and technology education at the Baltimore schools.

"We are attempting to support the growing life sciences economy by providing laboratory technicians," she said.

The area's life sciences businesses -- from blood laboratories to biotechnology companies -- have complained of a lack of employees with the basic skills needed to do the work in laboratories. The Baltimore Community College responded by setting up a life sciences major, but there were too few students for that major. So the college, business leaders and the city schools created the Dunbar and Southern program.

Using money from the state board of education, the schools will develop a curriculum for the program and train teachers beginning this fall.

The program may be turn out to be a precursor to a life sciences high school. A mayor's committee charged with exploring the feasibility of a high school back in February recently made a preliminary report to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. The report has not been made public, according to William Jews, who is heading the committee as well as the Greater Baltimore Committee's life sciences initiative.

By summer's end, the committee hopes to have a response to the report, Mr. Jews said.

UM studies additives to help fish farmers

Aquaculture -- fish farming -- pumped sales of $10.6 million into the Maryland economy in 1990 as well as filling countless dinner plates. Not bad for an industry that didn't even exist six or seven years ago.

Catfish, trout and striped bass are raised in ponds where the environment is carefully controlled. To help farmers, University of Maryland researchers are studying drugs and additives that can be used to prevent disease among the fish and improve the water quality in the ponds. Earlier this summer, the university opened a newly designed Aquatic Pathobiology Center at UMAB.

Seeking a vaccine for chicken bronchitis

A couple of Eastern Shore companies are racing to find a vaccine to combat bronchitis in the chicken industry -- not an insignificant quest when you consider that 11 million chickens are born each week on the Delmarva peninsula.

But it may end up being financial chicken feed, according to Stephen Roney, director of veterinary services at Intervet Inc. of Millsboro, Del., one of the companies working on the project.

The virus was first detected last winter in a limited number of flocks. While it was not devastating to the industry, it wiped out 60 percent of some flocks. Because the chicken industry is worried it might appear again in the region, Intervet and Sterwin Labs, also of Millsboro, began working on a vaccine that could be available in the fall if the disease does reappear.

"It's not a good economic decision," Mr. Roney said, because the vaccine might never be used if the virus does not reappear. "It is more for public relations."

So far the virus has been limited to the Eastern Shore. Unless it spreads, there will be a small market, he said.

Nevertheless, Intervet has about a dozen people working on the vaccine.

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