sealPurdue Science, Engineering, Health Briefs

October 1999

Institute receives state support for paralysis research

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – With a commitment of $1 million annually from the state of Indiana, Purdue and Indiana universities are cooperating to advance paralysis research and speed the process of bringing new developments to human trials.

The state money, split evenly between the two universities, supports the application of research on spinal cord and head injuries. The mission is to move promising experimental treatments into actual human clinical trials.

The arrangement is made possible through the new Institute for Applied Neurology in Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine. Director Richard Borgens, a professor of developmental anatomy whose research deals with dogs that have suffered spinal injuries, says this formal arrangement with Indiana University's medical school will help cut the time that it takes to test new research developments on humans.

"In the past we have had to apply for grants in order to fund human trials, and that process can take two to three years or more," he says. "Now we'll be able to move more quickly into human trials if a technique is both safe and effective on animal patients."

Dr. Paul Nelson, Betsey Barton Professor and chairman of the neurosurgery division at IU, calls the pairing unique. "Most of these arrangements are between centers doing basic research," he says. "We are already collaborating and very excited about utilizing Purdue's veterinary school as a 'first step' in developing paralysis treatments."

Spinal cord injuries represent a growing medical and financial dilemma for state governments, yet only a few other states – Kentucky, Florida and Virginia among them – fund paralysis research.

The Indiana state legislature approved the effort this past spring and made the money available July 1. The money provides a stable operating budget for equipment and professionals who will conduct coordinated research and test new developments.

The Institute for Applied Neurology at Purdue includes research collaborations between Purdue's schools of veterinary medicine, science and pharmacy.

In addition to Indiana University, the Institute for Applied Neurology also has formal relationships with neurosurgery and biomedical engineering units at the University of Chicago School of Medicine and McMaster University School of Medicine in Hamilton, Ontario.

CONTACT: Borgens, (765) 494-7600.

Check home air quality for dangerous gas

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – As the cold weather sets in, you welcome the warmth of your furnace or gas-log fireplace, but they may also bring a silent, invisible killer into your home.

Carbon monoxide, a byproduct of improper combustion of some fuels, has been associated with the death of more than 200 people in this country each year. The poisonous gas also sends nearly 10,000 people to hospital emergency rooms annually for treatment. Oct. 25-31 is National Combustion Gases/Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week.

Household appliances that burn natural or LP gas, kerosene, oil, coal, or wood can produce carbon monoxide as a byproduct, according to Cathy Burwell, Purdue University Extension Service specialist in water quality and environment in the School of Consumer and Family Sciences. The odorless, colorless gas can be produced by furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, clothes dryers and some space heaters.

"Carbon monoxide poisoning is especially hazardous, because its initial symptoms can be likened to those of the flu," Burwell says. "Many people have no idea that their headaches, fatigue and nausea may be a result of carbon monoxide poisoning."

Other symptoms associated with carbon monoxide poisoning include shortness of breath and dizziness. She says exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide can cause death.

Burwell suggests that a qualified technician inspect the heating equipment, including the unit, chimney, flues and vents, each year. Part of the inspection should include a check for adequate ventilation to appliances. "A supply of fresh air is important so that pollutants from the combustion process are carried away," she says.

This is not a do-it-yourself job, Burwell says. She says air quality inspections can be done by certified heating and air conditioning technicians as well as by some gas utility inspectors.

As an added protection throughout the year, homeowners may want to invest in a carbon monoxide detector. These detectors, similar to smoke detectors, make a loud noise when carbon monoxide is present.

She says carbon monoxide detectors should meet current Underwriters Laboratories standards and are available at most hardware stores. Prices range from $20 to $50. The higher-priced models include a readout that displays the level of gas present.

CONTACT: Burwell, (765) 494-8252;

Program connects Purdue women with mentors

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.— An Internet-based mentoring program for women pursuing careers in engineering and the sciences is making it easier for female students to connect with mentors and learn about opportunities in industry.

Purdue University is participating in the nonprofit program, called MentorNet, a partnership involving universities, corporations and professional societies. MentorNet, with headquarters at San Jose State University, uses cyberspace to link students and mentors, who communicate by e-mail.

The program, founded in 1998, is believed to be the first of its kind offered nationwide.

"It's a nice supplement to the many programs already under way for women in engineering and science Purdue," said Jane Daniels, director of the Purdue Women in Engineering Program. Programs now in place offer activities such as career counseling at the junior high and high school levels, mentoring programs and peer groups for students once they enroll at Purdue, and networking opportunities with alumnae and industry supporters.

Daniels said MentorNet is ideal for students who don't have time to participate in the formal mentoring programs, which often rely on face-to-face contact.

"Because the program relies on the use of e-mail and other electronic technologies, students may find it an easy way to expand their circle of contacts," Daniels said.

MentorNet's founder, Carol Muller, said that although women account for 46 percent of the U.S. work force, they are underrepresented in many scientific areas, particularly engineering. Part of the problem may be traced back to the nation's universities, where women may begin to feel isolated while studying in fields still heavily dominated by men.

She said MentorNet can break through that isolation by connecting female students with mentors who understand the challenges. "Ideally, the mentors serve as role models, provide realistic views of the training and preparation necessary to be successful, and advise students about overcoming obstacles," she said.

To volunteer as a mentor, participants must be a male or female professional with an educational or professional background in engineering, science, technology or math who works in private industry or at a government agency or national laboratory.

More information for potential mentors and students is available at the program's Web site.

CONTACT: Daniels, (765) 494-3889;


Compiled by Susan Gaidos, (765) 494-2081,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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