Team to study Pfiesteria's effects on man

Researchers will use $2 million federal grant

August 10, 1999|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

In the first study of its kind, neurological and environmental researchers will use a $2 million federal grant to study how the fish-killing microorganism Pfiesteria affects humans, the University of Maryland announced yesterday.

The grant, awarded last year by the National Institute of Environmental and Health Science, will be used by a newly formed group that will study the effects of Pfiesteria on the human brain and nervous system.

Pfiesteria caused huge fish kills in the Pocomoke River and adjacent Eastern Shore waterways in August 1997. Several people who came in contact with Pfiesteria-infested water reported a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, diarrhea, skin rashes and memory problems.

Leading the research will be Lynn Grattan, associate professor of neurology and director of the neuropsychology program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Grattan's team will work with scientists at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina who saw the first cases of Pfiesteria-related illnesses in that state.

"This collaboration with Duke will allow us to study exposed persons in North Carolina and share sophisticated knowledge with the scientists who saw the first cases of laboratory and environmental exposure," Grattan said.

Among the researchers on the project will be JoAnn Burkholder, a professor of aquatic ecology in the botany department of North Carolina State University. Burkholder and her colleagues were the first to identify the Pfiesteria microorganism.

The team is looking for patients. Anyone who believes they might have been exposed to Pfiesteria may call the Maryland Research Coordinating Center at 877-668-4559. A medical evaluation will follow if the team finds indications of exposure.

Pub Date: 8/10/99

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