News tips: Genetics research builds on legacy of double helix

In April 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick published their report describing for the first time the correct, double helical structure of the DNA molecule. Twenty-five years later, Johns Hopkins researchers Hamilton Smith and Daniel Nathans were awarded the Nobel Prize for finding proteins in bacteria that could cut DNA at specific, predictable places, ushering in the era of genetic engineering.

Other researchers at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine now are building on the Nathans-Smith and other advances that have dramatically altered medical science. In celebration of these important scientific anniversaries, reporters are invited to pursue the following stories involving genetic approaches to understanding and treating cancer, heart attack, Marfan syndrome, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.


In 1992, Gregg L. Semenza, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric geneticist with the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins, isolated hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1), a protein that regulates responses to reduced oxygen levels in the body. When oxygen levels drop, HIF-1 accumulates and activates multiple genes that control vital processes, such as red cell production and the formation of new blood vessels, both of which help to increase oxygen delivery throughout the body.

Today, Semenza is investigating the role of HIF-1 in animal models of heart attack, stroke, and cancer -- the three most common causes of death in the United States. This research may lead to the development of therapeutic strategies to promote or inhibit new blood vessel growth in patients, as needed.

"In many patients with coronary artery disease, heart tissue does not respond to reduced blood flow by forming new blood vessels as it should. This may be due, in part, to inadequate production of HIF-1," says Semenza. "If so,

Contact: Joanna Downer
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

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