The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 52.0°F | Fair

News Briefs 2

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Brain Chemistry Oddity Linked

Los Angeles Times

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome has always been so puzzling that its name describes only what happens, without betraying a hint of why. But for the first time, researchers have identified a specific abnormality in brain chemistry that appears to contribute to SIDS, the leading killer of babies between a month and a year old.

The new research, by pinpointing a chemical defect in a part of the brainstem that appears to control breathing during sleep, dispels some of the nightmarish mystery and randomness characteristic of crib death.

Dr. Hannah C. Kinney, a neuropathologist at the Children's Hospital in Boston, headed the research team that conducted the study, which appears in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

What the researchers found was that, on average, brainstem cells from the SIDS victims were less receptive than those of the other babies to a crucial nerve chemical called acetylcholine. This neurochemical is critical to communication between these and other brain cells.

Like a fire alarm with a weak battery, the defect in the cells' acetylcholine receptors, the medical scientists speculate, leaves a baby unable to respond in time when carbon dioxide builds up in blood.

Though the great majority of babies in that circumstance respond by taking deeper breaths, waking up or just starting to wail, a baby with a defect in the brainstem's carbon-dioxide alarm might not react.

Stoke-Preventing Drug Is Underused, Agency Says

Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

The increased use of a common drug could prevent an estimated 40,000 strokes annually, but many physicians are reluctant to prescribe it, federal health officials said Thursday.

The drug, warfarin, an anti-coagulant also known by its brand name Coumadin, could prevent half of the 80,000 strokes that occur in Americans suffering from atrial fibrillation, according to the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research.

Researchers said that many primary care physicians "underuse" warfarin, a blood thinner, because they are not aware of the techniques for administering the drug safely, and are afraid of causing bleeding.

However, "when properly administered, we estimate that for every major bleeding complication it causes, the drug prevents 20 strokes and deaths," said Dr. David B. Matchar, of Duke University in North Carolina, the principal investigator of the research team that conducted a five-year study sponsored by the agency to develop recommendations for stroke prevention.

New Witness Disputes U.S. Version Of Oklahoma Bombing

Los Angeles Times
OKLAHOMA CITY

A second private attorney in Oklahoma City has emerged as an eyewitness to the explosion at the federal office building and he recalls a scene last April that once again does not dovetail with the government's theory that suspect Timothy J. McVeigh acted alone in the bombing.

Ronald E. Stakem said in witness statements obtained Thursday by the Los Angeles Times that he saw a middle-age Mexican or American Indian man with facial hair hurrying from the front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building just moments before a truck bomb destroyed the high-rise office structure.

"I go through the intersection," Stakem said, describing how he was driving to work that morning when he saw the man suddenly dart in front of traffic on the north side of the Murrah building, near where the bomb was planted inside a rented Ryder truck. It was an unusual sight because most people use underground tunnels to get around the area and pedestrian traffic is not common.

"The guy stepped off the curb. I hit my brakes to keep from hitting him," he said.

Stakem's recollections appear to bolster an account by another local lawyer, James R. Linehan, who recently told The Times that he saw McVeigh driving the alleged get-away car on the opposite side of the Murrah building at about the same time of the morning on April 19.

Cop Suspect in Serial Killings

Los Angeles Times
NEW ORLEANS

There's some good news and some bad news about this city's beleaguered police department, which has become better known for committing crime than for fighting it.

The good news is that last year's record homicide rate has begun to plunge, perhaps enough for the Big Easy to shed its dubious distinction as the nation's murder capital. After an all-time high of 421 killings in 1994, homicides dropped 18 percent in the first six months of 1995.

Then there's the bad news, which, befitting the New Orleans Police Department, is pretty bad. First, authorities announced last month that a serial killer was believed to have slain 24 people, mostly prostitutes and drug users. Then, dropping the bombshell, they named a New Orleans officer as a suspect.

In a delicate bit of semantics, authorities have identified the officer as a suspect in only two of the slayings, even though both are attributed to a serial killer. One of the victims, a 28-year-old coin changer named Sharon Robinson, was the girlfriend of officer Victor Gant. Her body and that of a friend were found April 30 floating in a swamp.

Gant, a 15-year police veteran, has denied any wrongdoing. Although he has submitted blood and tissue samples to detectives, he has not been charged and remains on duty, reassigned to a desk job. His attorney, John Reed, said the cautiously couched accusations indicate that investigators have no evidence.