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Dec. 13, 2011

New use for old drug could lead to epilepsy treatment

An immuno- and growth-suppressant drug used to prevent rejection in human organ transplants and to treat some forms of cancer has proven effective in suppressing seizures in mice when used intermittently, says a Baylor University neuroscientist who contributed to research at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

These findings, which appear in a recent edition of Epilepsia, could one day lead to a new approach in treating humans with some forms of epilepsy, say researchers at Baylor College of Medicine. Among the researchers was Dr. Joaquin Lugo, BS '99, an assistant professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University.

"The findings are significant. We showed intermittent rapamycin treatment, as opposed to continuous treatment, suppressed seizures in a genetic model of epilepsy that mimics a form of human epilepsy," Lugo said. "Long-term, continuous treatment with rapamycin can lead to growth retardation; however, there were no adverse effects on growth following intermittent rapamycin treatment in the mice."

The study was conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Anne Anderson, associate professor of pediatric neurology at BCM and a principal investigator at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children's Hospital.

"Besides suppressing seizures, rapamycin also increased the engineered mice's longevity," Lugo said. "Whether the longer life is a result of fewer seizures, we don't know."

Lugo said he plans to do further lab research with rapamycin at Baylor University to explore possible links between autism and epilepsy.

The findings with animal models may indicate that lifelong treatment with the drug might not be necessary, although more research is needed to determine the long-term effects on humans, Lugo said.

Anderson added that these findings "open the door to clinical trials -- a rapid translation from bench to bedside."

The research was funded by the Epilepsy Foundation, Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE), The Vivian Smith Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health/National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Town branded as racist only partly recovered from stereotyping

Upon the Sept. 21 execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer, convicted for his role in chaining and dragging James Byrd Jr. to his death, attention again was focused on the small East Texas town of Jasper, vilified worldwide as racist after the 1998 murder.

But a study done over a 13-year period by researchers Dr. Cassy Burleson, MA '00, and Dr. Mia Moody, MSED '98, MA '01, in Baylor University's Department of Journalism and Media Arts, shows that the reputation of Jasper was fueled largely by stereotyping of the town by major global media. In contrast, the community's weekly newspaper, The Jasper Newsboy, had a head start in understanding the city's true politics and culture, which helped other journalists report the event more realistically relatively soon after the coverage began.

However, by the time major media began to portray the tragedy as an exception to the rule in Jasper, the damage had been done -- and it continues to affect the city's reputation and cultural and political climate today, the researchers said. An article about their study of how media globally handled coverage was published in November in the Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas.

"The small town paid a high price for a hate crime three people committed," the researchers wrote in their article, "Through a glass darkly: A comparison of Jasper Newsboy coverage with elite publications during the James Byrd Jr. Murder."

For their research, Moody and Burleson -- under the auspices of Baylor's Institute for Oral History -- compared and contrasted coverage by major newspapers with that of the Jasper paper. They also interviewed 15 residents.

The accounts published the first few days after the murder clearly portrayed Jasper as a racist community. Local leaders pleaded that the community not be branded as racist because of the actions of a violent few. Over time, by blending civic journalism with crisis communication, the Jasper newspaper has aided the town somewhat in refuting its image as racist, the researchers wrote.

"But Jasper still hasn't restored its image and has had a recent controversy regarding reverse discrimination in the news," Burleson said. Moody and Burleson plan to continue interviews with Jasper residents. "We want to preserve multiple viewpoints as a path to the truth of this story -- for posterity and so it will never happen again," Burleson said.

Biologist's article recognized by top scientists in field

An article by Dr. Ryan S. King, associate professor of biology at Baylor, has been selected and evaluated by the Faculty of 1000 (F1000), a database of more than 100,000 evaluations of the top 2 percent of published articles in biology and medicine.

King's article, "How novel is too novel? Stream community thresholds at exceptionally low levels of catchment urbanization," which initially appeared in the July 2011 issue of Ecological Applications, applied a new analytical method, threshold indicator taxa analysis, to a stream biomonitoring data set to evaluate linear community response models to urbanization.

In his evaluation, F1000 faculty member Dr. Peter Groffman, microbial ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., said the article made progress on two great current challenges in ecosystem ecology: ecology thresholds and land-use change.

"The work advances our ability to explore ecological thresholds with some clever new analytical techniques and changes our ideas about the effects of urbanization, a dominant source of environmental change and impact, on stream communities," Groffman said in the evaluation.

A post-publication review service, F1000 and its faculty of more than 10,000 scientists and clinical researchers select, rate and evaluate articles in biology and medicine. Launched in 2002, it was conceived as a collaboration of just 1,000 faculty members. On average, 1,500 new evaluations are published each month, corresponding to 2 percent of all published articles in biology and medicine.

King is principal investigator and director of the Baylor Experimental Aquatic Research facility at the Lake Waco Wetlands.

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