Merck Studying Substance For Use On Brain Damage

Posted: February 23, 1987

A potential drug identified by researchers at Merck Sharp & Dohme laboratories in West Point might be useful in reducing damage to the brain caused by an interruption in the supply of oxygen. Such damage most often occurs when a heart attack or stroke disrupts the flow of blood to the brain.

The substance, known as MK-801, originally was considered as a possible anti-convulsive agent for the control of epilepsy. That prospect was dampened, however, when tests conducted by Merck researchers indicated that the substance could not be administered orally.

The possible usefulness of MK-801 in controlling brain damage was described at a recent meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Washington. Leslie Iversen of Merck Sharp & Dohme's neuroscience research center in Terlings Park, England, said the substance was found to reduce damage to brain cells in gerbils and rats when injected before or after the interruption of oxygen.

Iversen and other investigators suspect that such damage may be caused by two amino acids, glutamate and aspartate, that are released within the brain when it becomes excited by a decrease in the supply of oxygen. Iversen said that MK-801 blocks the toxic effect of the amino acids.

The Food and Drug Administration has given Merck permission to begin testing the substance with human volunteers in the United States.



But for one problem, officials at Du Pont Co.'s connector-systems division loved the Apple computers purchased by the company. Du Pont bought the Macintosh Plus units two years ago for engineers and researchers at the division headquarters in Camp Hill.

Though the Macintosh system worked well for engineering applications, the usefulness of the terminals was limited by difficulties in connecting individual units into an single network.

The cables that allowed Macintosh users to communicate with one another could only be strung about 1,000 feet before encountering unacceptable levels of electrical interference. This constraint caused difficulties in hooking up users scattered among several buildings.

To overcome the obstacle, Du Pont turned to its own specialists in computer connections. The result is a new product for Du Pont - a modular fiber-optic system for connecting Macintosh terminals and related Apple equipment into a local area network, or "LAN."

Apple Computer Inc. and Du Pont announced recently that components of the fiber-optic LAN are being offered through selected Apple retail outlets. Apple is recommending the Du Pont system to augment or replace its existing AppleTalk LAN.

The new system allows users to connect stations as much as 4,900 feet apart. The fiber-optic network also can accommodate 100 terminals or more, compared with a maximum of 32 that could be handled by the AppleTalk network.

Because the system is based on fiber-optic technology, it offers substantial savings in installation costs. Optical fibers transmit computer data as pulses of light, not as electrical currents. As a result, the system does not fall under building-code provisions that apply to electrical wiring.

By offering a fiber-optic LAN, Du Pont is moving into a crowded field. IBM, Xerox, AT&T, Siemens, Westinghouse and a pack of smaller companies offer similar systems.

A spokesman for Du Pont said that its new LAN differed from those of competitors by being designed specifically for use with Macintosh computers. Du Pont also said its LAN is so simple that users can install it themselves and avoid the expense of outside technicians.

Though primarily a chemical and energy company, Du Pont has become a large supplier of electronics equipment and materials. Last year, sales for its electronics business totaled $1.3 billion.

Within the broad field of electronics, Du Pont has identified optoelectronics as one of three fast-growing areas in which to concentrate its resources.


SmithKline Beckman Corp. has pledged $5 million for the construction of a center for molecular and genetic medicine at Stanford University and $2.8 for support of research at the new facility. In return, the company will have the right to license any patented processes or products that result from projects financed by its research support.

A SmithKline spokesman said the company hopes to get rights to several potential drugs as result of the arrangement.

Paul Berg, the biochemist who directs the center, headed a group at Stanford that created the first molecules of recombinant DNA in 1972. Berg shared a Nobel Prize in 1980 for the achievement, which constitutes a fundamental technique in genetic engineering. As a result of his work, Stanford owns important patents on basic procedures in biotechnology.

Cooperative research with private industry, such as that being financed by SmithKline, "is crucial for reaching the next generation of medical advances," Berg said.

The Stanford center previously received a $12 million grant from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. Arnold O. Beckman founded Beckman Instruments, which was acquired by SmithKline in 1982. He joined the board of SmithKline after the $1 billion merger and serves as vice chairman of the company.

Construction of the center began last summer and will be completed in late 1988.

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