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Research Roundup

Ivory Statuette Part of the Throne of King Midas?

It isn't made of gold, but a well-known and much-discussed ivory statuette of a lion-tamer, found in 1939 at Delphi, may very well be part of the throne given to the god Apollo by the famous King Midas of Phrygia.

So asserts Dr. Keith DeVries, associate curator, Mediterranean section of the University Museum, and former field director of the Museum's long-term excavation project at the Phrygian capital of Gordion in Turkey.

Dr. DeVries' detective work made use of ancient Assyrian records that indicate that the powerful Phrygian King Midas ruled at least during the period between 717 and 709 B.C. The Greek historian Herodotus, writing several centuries later (circa 450-430 B.C.), mentions a throne, a gift from King Midas, in the Corinthian Treasury at Delphi; Herodotus understood it to be the very throne from which Midas rendered justice. No later mention of the throne is known.

Since its 1939 discovery, in one of two trash pits just about thirty feet away from where the Corinthian Treasury once stood, the elaborate ivory statuette of a lion-tamer has drawn much interest, and some controversy. The pits where it was uncovered were filled with discarded votive material, some of it burned, with the latest piece dating from 420 B.C. The unusual statuette has cuttings in its back that indicate it was attached to something, possibly furniture. Over the years, the style of the statuette has been debated; most scholars have supposed it Greek under Anatolian influence, but some have thought it possibly or definitely Anatolian.

According to Dr. DeVries, the accumulating evidence of finds from sites in Turkey, including recently discovered ivory figurines in a tomb near Elmali, allow for a confident identification of the statuette as non-Greek Anatolian, probably Phrygian. Also, the dramatic shift in the chronology of Phrygian art that recent radiocarbon dates from Gordion now allow, along with the Elmali finds, make a date for the statuette in the late 8th or early 7th century B.C. plausible.

Throne of King Midas | $40 M. Kidney Disease Study | Head Injury & Alzheimers | CD4 T Cells | Volunteers: Depressive Disorder Study

Penn Leads $40 Million Kidney Disease Study

It is a curious medical fact that people who suffer from kidney disease are not only at great risk from kidney failure requiring dialysis or transplantation, but are more likely than most to die from heart problems. Over 10 million Americans suffer from Chronic Renal Insufficiency (CRI), a disease that, for many sufferers, leads to death from cardiovascular complications related to high blood pressure before their kidney disease progresses to end-stage.

To understand the progression of CRI, researchers at the School of Medicine will track the health of 3,000 CRI sufferers from seven clinical sites across the country. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK) of the NIH has committed over $40 million to begin the project and see it through the first seven years of operation. The funding will go to seven clinical centers, including Penn, and one scientific data-coordinating center. The latter, also based at Penn, will coordinate the scientific conduct of the study, analyze all study data, and disseminate their findings. Penn will receive about $17 million of the grant to fund both the clinical and data coordinating centers on campus. "We will serve as the nerve center of the operation, collecting data from the individual centers and coordinating the scientific efforts to sort out the long-term factors that put CRI sufferers at greater risk." said Dr. Harold I. Feldman, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology, at the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics (CCEB) and principal investigator of the CRI Scientific and Data Coordinating Center (CRI-SDCC). Dr. Feldman is joined by co-principal investigator Dr. J. Richard Landis, professor of biostatistics, also at the CCEB. CRI is an important risk factor for end stage renal disease (ESRD). In 1999, over 300,000 patients were treated for ESRD in the U.S., incurring $11.3 billion in Medicare payments. Among patients with end-stage kidney disease, heart-related mortality rates are 10 to 20 times that of the general population--and account for nearly half of all deaths in hemodialysis patients older than 20.

Throne of King Midas | $40 M. Kidney Disease Study | Head Injury & Alzheimers | CD4 T Cells | Volunteers: Depressive Disorder Study

Repetitive Head Injury Accelerates Alzheimer's Disease

Researchers at the School of Medicine have found direct evidence that mild repetitive head injuries can lead to Alzheimer's disease. Their evidence suggests that brain trauma accelerates Alzheimer's by increasing free radical damage and the formation of plaque-like deposits of Amyloid beta (Ab) proteins. Perhaps just as importantly, the special breed of mice developed for the study could serve as a model in screening drugs to treat Alzheimer's and traumatic brain injuries. Their findings were published in the January 15 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

"This is the first experimental evidence linking head injuries to Alzheimer's disease by showing how repetitive concussions can speed up the progress of the disease," said Dr. Kunihiro Uryu, a senior research investigator at Penn's Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (CNDR). In recent years, researchers have made remarkable progress in uncovering the genetic basis of inherited Alzheimer's disease. They do not, however, know much about the causes of the sporadic, or non-inherited, forms of the disease despite the fact that almost 90% of all Alzheimer's cases can be termed sporadic. While there are a few documented genetic risk factors that predisposes a person to Alzheimer's, one very robust environmental factor, head trauma, has been identified. Although recurrent head trauma is thought to cause Punch Drunk Syndrome (dementia pugilistica) in boxers, researchers had been unable to prove a mechanistic link between head injury and Alzheimer's. This work was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging, of the NIH.

Throne of King Midas | $40 M. Kidney Disease Study | Head Injury & Alzheimers | CD4 T Cells | Volunteers: Depressive Disorder Study

Self-Donated CD4 T Cells Boost Resistance to Infection

For patients suffering from HIV, a virus that specifically targets white blood cells, the best donors of new CD4 T cells just might be themselves. In the January 2002 issue of Nature Medicine, researchers at the Penn Medical Center report the first autologous--or self-donated--transfusions of pure CD4 cells, in eight HIV-positive volunteers. The infused cells were resistant to re-infection with both a laboratory strain of HIV and the volunteer's own HIV strain.

"Basically, we took a volunteer's own T cells, engineered the cells to mimic a genetic lesion that renders some people resistant to HIV infection, grew them in large amounts, and then transferred them back to the volunteer," said Dr. Bruce L. Levine, a researcher in the Leonard & Madlyn Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute at the Penn Cancer Center. As a result, the volunteers showed a sustained resurgence of their active CD4 cells. "The technique not only holds promise for people who are HIV positive, but also for those suffering from the various types of cancers that suppress the immune system."

Although the technique is not yet ready for FDA approval, the article outlines how Dr. Levine, along with Dr. Carl June, professor at the Abramson Institute, and colleagues at Bethesda Naval Hospital and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center demonstrated the safety and feasibility of boosting the immune system through large-scale transfusions of activated immune cells. The researchers enrolled HIV positive active duty or retired military personnel into the study. Their blood was drawn and CD4 cells were purified and exposed to tiny metal beads coated with antibodies for CD28, a receptor on the surface of T cells. Once ‘activated' by these antibodies, the cells were grown in culture for two weeks. The researchers then removed the beads with a magnet and washed the cells, readying up to 30 billion cells to be infused back into the volunteers. The researchers repeated this process up to six more times over an interval of six to eight weeks. Each of the volunteers experienced an increase in CD4 cells and, most interestingly, the ratio of CD4 cells to other T cells rose to near-normal levels. "Considering that we only gave each volunteer a dose equal to about 10% of the CD4 cells in their body, it indicates that rise is due to cell growth and replication and not just the influx of new cells," said Dr. Levine. "Just as importantly, we also see a marked decline in the HIV receptor CCR5 on CD4 cells, which shows that the cells are resistant to infection." This study was funded through an Army contract and the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute.

Throne of King Midas | $40 M. Kidney Disease Study | Head Injury & Alzheimers | CD4 T Cells | Volunteers: Depressive Disorder Study

Volunteers Needed for Study on Depressive Disorder

In an effort to understand why some individuals are more predisposed than others to develop the illness, a researcher at the School of Medicine is coordinating the largest psychiatric genetics study ever attempted: the creation of a DNA bank that will eventually include DNA material from 700 volunteer families with at least two siblings who suffer from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), for use in studying the genetic causes of depression.

Dr. Douglas F. Levinson, associate professor of psychiatry, is overseeing the collection of DNA material at Penn and five additional sites throughout the country.

Study families will include two siblings with recurrent MDD, where one sibling suffered the first depressive episode prior to the age of 41.

For purposes of the study, an eligible volunteer will have no parent or sibling who suffers from severe Bipolar Disorder, and the volunteer's MDD episodes should not be limited to periods of alcohol or substance abuse.

Volunteers will be interviewed about their psychiatric and family histories, and asked to provide a blood specimen (for DNA material). They will also be asked to help obtain the participation of family members. No relative will be contacted without the permission and assistance of the volunteer, and no sibling suffering from MDD will be contacted without conveying prior permission to researchers through the volunteer. All information will be confidential, in accordance with federal guidelines.

Those interested in participating in the study may contact research coordinators Dr. Kathleen Murphy-Eberenz, at (215) 746-5153 (e-mail:, or Karen Yoder, BSN, at (215) 746-5152 (e-mail:

Throne of King Midas | $40 M. Kidney Disease Study | Head Injury & Alzheimers | CD4 T Cells | Volunteers: Depressive Disorder Study

Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 21, February 5, 2002


February 5, 2002
Volume 48 Number 21

The first Neal Nathanson Lecture will be given next week by Dr. Stanley Prusiner, Nobel Laureate and Penn alumnus.
After four years at the helm of the College House Program, Dr. David Brownlee steps down as director and turns over the wheel to a fellow faculty master.
When is Spring Recess? Well, now it is Spring Break--at least on the Academic Calendar--to be consistent with Fall Break.
Mix more than a dozen committees, a multi-year timeline, five institutional goals, six academic priorities, and several organizational priorities and the result is a new Strategic Plan which will soon be published For Comment.
The Council Committee on Communications reports on its findings from a one-year review of the Policy on Privacy in the Electronic Environment.
Improving pedestrian safety is a multi-step challenge.
Environmental Health and Radiation Safety offers information, thermometer exchange, and training for employees who handle hazardous substances.
Researchers make discoveries concerning King Midas, kidney disease, Alzheimer's disease, immune system and major depressive disorder.
The University Research Foundation's latest awards go to 48 projects--from The Art of Urbanism in Feudal Aquitaine to Evaluating a Hospital Quality Improvement Model for Developing Countries.
Discounted tickets are available to attend Annenberg Center events and a Basketball Game at the Palestra.
Penn Public Safety Institute provides the community with a glimpse of police work from behind-the-scenes; the next program begins tomorrow. Apply now.