The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky on October 10, 2002 · 4
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The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky · 4

Louisville, Kentucky
Issue Date:
Thursday, October 10, 2002
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A4 THE COURIER-JOURrJAL THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2002 A Closer Look: The Nobel Prize Chemist with Kentucky roots wins Nobel Berea graduate shares top honor with two others ' From Courier-Journal and AP Dispatches STOCKHOLM, Sweden An American who graduated from Kentucky's Berea College, along with Japanese and Swiss scientists, won the Nobel Prize in chemistry yesterday for inventing techniques used to identify and analyze proteins, advances that revolutionized the hunt for new medicines. The techniques are also proving useful for diagnosing some cancers. John B. Fenn, 85, of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and Koichi Tanaka, 43, of Shimadzu Corp. in Kyoto, Japan, will share half of the $1 million prize. The other half of the prize goes to Kurt Wuethrich, 64, a scientist with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. BECAUSE OF THEIR work, "chemists can now rapidly and reliably identify what proteins a sample contains," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said. "They can also produce three-dimensional images of protein molecules in solution." "What this does is provide a way in getting a peephole in structures of protein molecules and what happens to them in the body," Fenn said. As far as winning a Nobel Prize, Fenn told The Courier-Journal yesterday afternoon, "I'm in a complete state of confusion. The phone's been ringing off the hook since 5:30 in the morning and I'm a little punch drunk. It's exhilarating and exhausting at the same time." Fenn and Tanaka produced their breakthroughs in the latter half of the 1980s, transforming an analysis technique called mass spectrometry, which lets scientists rapidly identify a substance. Mass spectrometry is used in tests for doping and illegal drugs, for example. The technique had been used on small or medium-sized molecules for much of the 20th century. To extend the technique to large molecules, scientists have to make the individual molecules separate and spread out as a cloud in a gas without losing their original structure. Fenn and Tanaka were honored for finding two ways to accomplish that. WUETHRICH WAS honored for improving a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance. The technique allows scientists to develop three-dimensional images of molecules in a solution, which is the natural environment of a protein in a cell. Wuethrich's work allowed the technique to be used on large molecules like proteins. The first complete protein structure to be determined with his method was achieved in 1385. Fenn previously was a professor emeritus at Yale University but left when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. He was attracted to Virginia Commonwealth University because the school furnished him with a lab, which he didn't have at Yale as a professor emeritus. Originally from New York, Fenn moved at age 11 to Berea, where he graduated from the old Berea Academy. According to Berea College's yearbook, Fenn received his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1937 and went on to get a chemistry doctorate from Yale University. FENN SAID the family moved to Berea after his father lost his job in New York City at the beginning of the Depression. "My mother thought we were coming to the end of the Earth, but within three years they realized my father losing his job was the best thing that Ft . - ( i ASSOOltD WESS PHOTOS The work of John B. Fenn, of Virginia Commonwealth University and former professor emeritus at Yale University, helped revolutionize the hunt for new medicines. . : A-... ti ' . ' ' r r ' s ' . - -ry Kurt Wuethrich, a Swiss scientist, shared the Nobel Prize for his work to improve a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance. ever happened," Fenn said in an interview. THE FAMILY moved to Kentucky because his aunt, Helen Dingman, who was on the Berea College sociology faculty and a proponent of settlement schools in Eastern Kentucky, knew about an opening at Berea s Koichi Tanaka, of Shimadzu Corp., and renn produced breakthroughs that transformed an analysis technique called mass spectrometry. Foundation School for elementary school students. Fenn's father, Herbert Fenn, taught auto mechanics at the Foundation School. His mother, Jeannette Fenn, worked on the college's boarding staff and in the chemistry lab. Staff writer Mark Pitsch contributed to this report Two Americans to share economics award They have tried to explain how we make decisions The New York Times ' Two Americans won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences yesterday for trying to explain idiosyncrasies in how people make decisions research that is at the nexus of psychology and economics. Daniel Kahneman, a professor of psychology at Princeton University who is also a citizen of Israel, and Vernon L. Smith, a professor of economics and law at George Mason University, shared the prize, which is worth about S1.07 million before taxes. The standard theory of choice pro pounded by economists assumes that individuals make decisions systematically, based on their preferences and available information, in a way that changes little with time or context. Yet by the early 1980s, Kahneman and his longtime collaborator, Amos Tversky, who died in 1996, had begun to perform experiments with humans to suggest seemingly irrational wrinkles in behavior. In an article published in Science in 1981, they reported the results of a study in which 152 students were given hypothetical choices for trying to save 600 people from a disease. Using one strategy, 200 people could be saved for certain. Using another, there would be a one-third chance that everyone would live, and a two-thirds chance that no one would be saved. Seventy-two percent of the subjects, preferring the less risky strategy, chose the first option. Studies by Daniel Kahneman, a professor of psychology at Princeton University, suggest Irrational behavior in decision making. But when the researchers presented the same choice with different wording either 400 people would die or there would be a one-third chance that no one would die only 22 percent chose the first option. Smith's work formalized laboratory techniques for studying economic decision making, with a focus on bargaining and auctions. The Nobel committee cited him for demonstrat- V 3 J' Vernon Smith, a professor of economics and law at George Mason University, formalized techniques for studying economic decision making. ing how market institutions, such as the type of auction used in a sale, could affect participants' behavior. Unlike the other five Nobel prizes, the prize in economics was not set up by the will of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor. It has been awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences with sponsorship from Sweden's central bank since 1968. Medicine Gene found that signals aggressiveness of prostate cancer By MARK EVANS Associated Press Scientists have found a gene that predicts whether prostate cancer will develop into its most lethal form a finding that could someday help doctors decide how to treat men with the disease in its early stages. Some prostate tumors remain confined to the prostate, some spread to other parts of the body. But doctors have no way to know before the cancer actually spreads. The aggressive, metastatic form kills more than 30,000 American men each year. In their study, University of Michigan Medical School researchers examined tumor cells taken from pros tate cancer patients. They found 55 genes that were more active in metastatic cells than in less-lethal cells. A gene called EZH2 was the most active. They found that the intensity of EZH2's activity increased as the disease progressed. And patients who showed higher levels of the EZH2 protein were more likely to get the deadlier form of the disease. "It suggests that this is a lethal biomarker, that it portends aggressiveness," said Ami Chinnaiyan, an assistant professor of pathology. The findings were published today in the journal Nature. Chinnaiyan said that if a test can be developed, EZH2 protein levels could be used to decide which patients need aggressive treatment, including radiation or surgery. A recent study found that many men over age 60 receive unnecessary surgery and other treatments for prostate cancer that is unlikely to spread. Prostate surgery can cause impotence and urinary incontinence. Doctors now have several methods of diagnosing prostate cancer, including a test that measures the level of a prostate-specific antigen in the blood. The researchers said the prevalence of EZH2 in the tumor cell is a more accurate predictor of a patient's survival than the antigen level. The gene's exact role in tumor de velopment remains unclear. But the researchers speculated that EZH2 may suppress genes that slow the spread of the disease. "It's just a piece of the puzzle, and there are going to be a lot of little pieces like this in coming years," said Thomas Wheeler, a pathology professor at Baylor University College of Medicine. "But this gene does seem to be important over the whole spectrum of prostate cancer." Prostate cancer is the second-deadliest form of cancer among American men, behind lung cancer. Roughly 189,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease each year. Gene disorder may explain blacks' risk of heart failure Associated Press , A genetic double-whammy rarely found in whites dramatically increases the risk of congestive heart failure in blacks and may help explain why they are more likely than whites to get the disease, researchers say. The genetic combination plays a role in one-quarter of the cases of congestive heart failure diagnosed each year among blacks, said Dr. Stephen B. Liggett, a leader of the study. t.The study found that a pair of genes that does nothing bad by itself can double the risk created by a second pair, generating a tenfold risk for heart failure in blacks who have both. About 5 percent of blacks in the United States have that combination, Liggett said. But it is far rarer among whites. The study was published in today's New England Journal of Medicine. Doctors have long known that blacks are more likely than whites to suffer from heart diseases and certain other illnesses, and are more likely to die from them. Some researchers have suggested that blacks receive inferior care, perhaps be cause of subconscious prejudice among doctors. Liggett's study is part of a growing body of research indicating that at least part of the racial gap can be explained by genetics. Nearly 4.8 million Americans have congestive heart failure. It affects about 3.5 percent of all black men, 3.1 percent of black women, 2.3 percent of white men and 1.5 percent of white women, according to the American Heart Association. That would mean about 733,500 blacks have the disease. It shows up earlier and is more likely to have serious complications in blacks than in whites. Also, blacks do not get as much benefit from ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers, two common groups of medicines for heart disease. There is no one explanation for those differences. What you do and where you live also can increase the risk. High blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking and obesity all make it more likely. In the study, two of the 84 healthy blacks had the combination, compared with 15 of 78 blacks with heart failure. Two out of 105 healthy whites and three of 81 with heart failure had the gene combination. Conner was warned about inspections, 1998 complaint said Anonymous letter claimed nursing home was being tipped off By MICHAEL L LINDEKBERGER The Courier-Journal An anonymous complaint sent to state officials in 1998 alleged that fire marshal employees were tipping off Tina Conner's nursing home in advance of inspections by the Cabinet for Health Services. The unsigned letter also claimed that Conner depended on connections in Frankfort to avoid penalties for poor conditions at the home, Birchtree Healthcare in Hickman County. "The residents are in danger," the letter read in part. "The fire marshal tips her off when the state is coming out there." Cabinet officials, who released the letter yesterday in response to requests for documents under the Open Records Act, said as soon as thev received the letter in September 1998 they forwarded it to Kentucky State Police and the fire marshal's office. They also immediately sent inspectors to the nursing home, and then three more times that year, but no violations were found. Ken Meredith, deputy commissioner of the Department of Housing, Building and Construction, which oversees the fire marshal's office, said no records exist that indicate the letter was forwarded to that office. "We don't know what happened in 1998 because, after searching the records in the fire marshal's office, their staff could not come up with a copy of this correspondence," Meredith said. A review by The Courier-Journal of records released by the fire marshal's office found no suspicious correlation between its inspections and those by health officials. The health inspections began a day or two before the fire inspections; officials said that is normal procedure. Conner has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Gov. Paul Pat-ton stemming from their two-year affair, which Patton initially denied but later admitted. But Patton has denied Conner's claim that she received special treatment from the state during the affair, including notice of inspections that were supposed to be secret, and that he had state officials retaliate with harsh inspections after the relationship ended. Tipping off a nursing home to an inspection isn't a crime, but it is a firing offense for state employees. The federal government can fine an employee for doing so. State police sent the anonymous letter to the Mayfield post, but Lt. Lisa Rudzinski, a department spokeswoman, said it's unclear what action, if any, was taken. She said officials are trying to determine whether an investigation was opened. If so, it would have focused on allegations that the health and safety of nursing home workers and employees were being compromised, she said. Among the thousands of pages of records released yesterday by the Health Services cabinet was a typed letter from Conner suggesting she knew the timing of at least one inspection. The letter sent to the cabinet's Hopkinsville office asked that the visit be rescheduled since she. would be out of town. Conner did not say in the letter how she knew when the inspection was scheduled although her letter specified the dates nor does a corresponding note from a state official say whether she was right. A handwritten note from a state inspector next to Conner's signature said Conner was called and told that rescheduling was impossible and that all inspections are unannounced. According to e-mail records released by the fire marshal's office, their employees were routinely notified by the health cabinet about the schedule of inspections for the coming week or so. Cabinet spokesman Gil Lawson said that was so fire inspectors could coordinate their work with Health Services inspectors. In 1997, the then-director of long-term care for the cabinet wrote the chief deputy fire marshal, Jess Thompson, saying she had received reports that on three occasions representatives of the fire marshal's office had alerted nursing homes to inspections. An investigation proved inconclusive. Inspector General Pamela Murphy said last month that while her office welcomed an outside inquiry into Conner's accusation about tips on upcoming inspections, it would have been difficult for the warnings to have originated in Frankfort. "The surveys are scheduled in the regional offices," she said. Lawson said yesterday that Murphy meant that senior management officials were not routinely made aware of the inspection schedules. Staff writer Tom Loftus contributed to this story. Agents serve subpoenas in Patton investigation Governor's office, other agencies must hand over documents By TOM LOFTUS The Courier-Journal FRANKFORT, Ky. - Federal and state criminal investigators served subpoenas yesterday on Gov. Paul Patton's office and other state agencies for documents to submit to a federal grand jury investigating allegations in Patton's sex scandal. The governor's office released a copy of the subpoena it was served requiring copies of "any and all records" the office holds relating to Tina Conner, her ex-husband Seth Conner, and companies the Conners operated including their Hickman County nursing home, Birchtree Healthcare. The subpoena also demanded records of any meetings, phone calls or electronic mail between Patton and other office employees and the Conners. The subpoena orders that the records be provided before a Nov. 13 meeting of the grand jury in Covington. The subpoenas served yesterday are for the joint criminal investigation being conducted by the FBI, the U.S. attorney's office in Lexington and the Kentucky attorney general's office. Last week, subpoenas were issued by the state Executive Branch Ethics Commission, which is investigating Conner's charges for possible violations of the ethics code governing state officials. Subpoenas served by the ethics commission included one to the Cabinet for Health Services, which licenses and regulates Conner's nursing home, and the Transportation Cabinet, which certified a now- defunct Conner construction company for special consideration for subcontracting work on state road projects. Conner has claimed she won special favors from Patton while the two were having an affair from 1997 to 1999, and that Patton retaliated by having state inspectors crack down on her nursing home after the affair ended. Patton has admitted to the affair but has denied misusing his office. Gil Lawson, a spokesman for the Cabinet for Health Services, said officials of the cabinet met yesterday with state and federal agents, but he declined to say whether a subpoena was served. A subpoena was served on the Transportation Cabinet yesterday. But Mark Pfeiffer, spokesman for the cabinet, said the cabinet would not release a copy because it was told by federal agents not to do so. Agents told the governor's office the same thing. General Counsel Denis Fleming initially decided not to release the subpoena yesterday but later learned that employees of the office already had released a copy to at least one reporter. Because of that, Fleming said he agreed to release copies to other reporters who asked for them. U.S. Attorney Gregory Van Taten-hove in Lexington would not comment on whether his agents had requested or ordered that the subpoenas remain confidential, according to Wanda Roberts, spokeswoman for his office. Jon Fleischaker, attorney for The Courier-Journal, said yesterday that the law requires any state agency to release copies of any subpoenas it receives. "There is no basis under the Open Records Act to say that the press cannot have a copy of a subpoena. Clearly there is a lot of pressure in Frankfort at this time," Fleischaker said. Readers' Guide Copynqht ?00? The Courier-Journal Votum 296, Number 101 Man Swnchbovd 502-562-401 1 FOR INFORMATION Rdn' Servior Call 5KMM5 for answers lo questions and other services on a fee habis, inrJud'na photo reprints, pack issues and reprints ot published uncles Hours 8 3(J a m lo 6 p m. Monday f-fiday Ubnrf. 5H?-460I lor enlensive research oti a the busts Sporti Scorer be? 461 TO REPORT A NEWIJTEM Managing Editor: Arthur B Post 582-4050 Local News: Jean Porter 582-4691 Kentuctty News: Kristin WHkison .'....582-4657 So. 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