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RESEARCH ROUNDUP
December 19, 2006, Volume 53, No. 16


How Segregated Communities Shape Racial Attitudes

Dr. Camille Zubrinsky Charles, associate professor of sociology, examines how segregation shapes our attitudes about race in her new book, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Race, Class and Residence in Los Angeles.

Through in-depth survey data from a large multiracial sample of Los Angeles residents, Dr. Charles found that segregation doesn’t stem from blacks and whites preference to live only among themselves but rather from negative stereotypes of African-Americans held by whites, Latinos, Asians and others and from those groups’ avoidance of African-Americans as neighbors.

“People of all races show a clear and consistent order of preference, with whites considered the most highly desired neighbors and blacks the least desirable. This is even true among recent immigrants who have little experience with American race relations,” Dr. Charles wrote in her book, published this fall by the Russell Sage Foundation.

Dr. Charles found that people’s racial prejudices coupled with minority-group fears of white hostility strongly affect decisions about where they live. Her book expands the analyses of race relations beyond black-white relations, looking at the effect of rising racial-ethnic diversity in America on relations between minority groups and at minority-group relations with whites. Over time and with increased exposure to other racial and ethnic groups, people show an increased willingness to live with neighbors of other races, she found.

How HPV is Presented Affects Use

In June, the Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S and the leading cause of cervical cancer. The way that HPV is described can impact whether women decide to seek vaccination, according to a study by researchers at the Center of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research at Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication.

A representative sample of 635 American adults, of whom 49 percent were women, was randomly assigned to read one of three slightly different paragraphs about the vaccine through the Annenberg National Health Communication Survey. 

One paragraph addressed how the vaccine protects against cervical cancer, another how the vaccine protects against cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infection and the third how the vaccine protects against cervical cancer, sexually transmitted infection and how it may or may not lead to increased sexual promiscuity among those vaccinated. 

When women in the survey read that the vaccine protects only against cervical cancer, 63 percent indicated that they were very likely or somewhat likely to get the vaccine compared to 43 percent of women who read that the vaccine protects against cervical cancer and a sexually transmitted infection.

“Despite high levels of exposure to and awareness of the newly approved HPV vaccine, intentions to vaccinate are mixed,” said Amy Leader, research director of the Center. “Trends indicate that intentions are highest when the vaccine is framed to solely prevent cervical cancer.  Intentions are lowest when the vaccine is framed to prevent both cervical cancer and a sexually transmitted infection indicating that people may feel the need for an STI vaccine is personally unnecessary.”

Older Men Treated for Early Prostate Cancer Live Longer

Recent findings from an observational study by researchers at Penn’s School of Medicine suggest that men between ages 65 and 80 years who received treatment for early stage, localized prostate cancer lived significantly longer than men who did not receive treatment. The study is published in the December 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“For this study we looked back over the existing data of a large population of prostate cancer patients, aged 65 to 80, with small tumors that were at a low or intermediate risk of spreading,” said senior author Dr. Katrina Armstrong, assistant professor of medicine, who worked on the study with colleagues from Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Leonard Davis Institute of Health and Economics and Division of Internal Medicine and Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Data was used from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Medicare database, a population-based cancer registry which encompasses approximately 14 percent of the U.S. population. Data was included on 44,630 men, aged 65 to 80, who were diagnosed between 1991-1999, with prostate cancer and had survived more than a year after diagnosis. All patients were followed-up until death or December 31, 2002, the end of the study. Of the 44,630 men, 32,022 (71.8 percent) were actively treated with either surgery or radiation therapy during the first six months after diagnosis. The remaining group of 12,608 (28.3 percent) were classified as having received “observation” and did not undergo surgery, radiation or hormonal therapy.

During the 12-years of follow-up, researchers found that the patients who received treatment had a 31 percent lower risk of death. In the observation-only group, 37 percent of the patients died whereas only 23.8 percent of those in the treatment group died.

Progress Against Overlooked Lung Disease in Women

Researchers are advancing against a rare, deadly lung disease (related to hormones) that targets only women, striking them down during their childbearing years. It can be triggered by pregnancy, progresses rapidly, and often results in death within ten years.

The disease, Lymphangioleimyomatosis (LAM), causes extensive, abnormal smooth muscle-like cell proliferation, which invades and destroys the tissues of the lung by forming cysts, eventually obstructing the flow of air and leading to lung collapse and failure.

The lab of Dr. Vera Krymskaya, research associate professor of medicine in the Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Division of Penn’s School of Medicine, was responsible for the breakthrough step of discovering the function of the gene that caused the cell malfunction, paving the way for a potential treatment utilizing a medication to inhibit abnormal growth. This treatment is now in a clinical trial.

As many as 250,000 women may be suffering from LAM, but many are misdiagnosed with asthma or emphysema or remain undiagnosed. Dr. Krymskaya explains, “the key to combating this disease is to educate physicians to know how to diagnose LAM and treat it in its earliest stages before the damage to the lung is done and a transplant is needed. A biopsy and a high resolution CT scan, not just an X-ray, are needed to detect LAM.”

Dr. Krymskaya’s discovery in 2002 revealed that abnormal smooth muscle-like LAM cells invading the lungs are due to the loss of growth control by tuberous sclerosis (a genetic disorder which causes tumors to form in organs) complex proteins—and furthermore, Dr. Krymskaya then discovered that growth can potentially be controlled by a drug (FDA-approved Rapamycin), which mimics the function of the missing proteins. Dr. Krymskaya made the link between similar basic research found in flies and applied it to humans, opening the door for the first-ever LAM treatment clinical trial now underway.

JitterBugs Could Turn Your Keyboard Against You

Researchers from Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science warn against an entirely new threat to computer security: peripheral devices—such as keyboards, mice or microphones—which could be physically bugged in an attempt to steal data. Penn graduate student Gaurav Shah has identified a class of devices that could covertly transmit data across an existing network connection without the user’s knowledge.

They are called JitterBugs, named by Dr. Matthew Blaze, associate professor of computer and information science, for both the way they transmit stolen data in “jittery” chunks by adding nearly imperceptible processing delays after a keystroke and for the “jitters” such a bug could inspire in anyone with secure data to safeguard.

“This is spy stuff. Someone would need physical access to your keyboard to place a JitterBug device, but it could be quite easy to hide such a bug in plain sight among cables or even replace a keyboard with a bugged version,” said Mr. Shah, a graduate student in the department of computer and information science. “Although we do not have evidence that anyone has actually been using JitterBugs, our message is that if we were able to build one, so could other, less scrupulous people.”

JitterBug devices only need to be installed. The device itself sends the collected information through any interactive software application where there is a correlation between keyboard activity and network activity, such as instant messaging, SSH or remote desktop applications. The bug leaks the stolen data through short, virtually unnoticeable delays added every time the user presses a key.

Anytime the user surfs the web, sends an e-mail or instant messages someone, an implanted JitterBug could be timed to open a covert jitter channel to send stolen data. According to Mr. Shah, a JitterBug could not log and transmit every touch of the key due to limited storage space on the device, but it could be primed to record a keystroke with a particular trigger.

According to Mr. Shah, the channel through which the JitterBug transmits data is also the point where it could be most easily detected and countered.

“We normally do not think of our keyboard and input devices as being something that needs to be secured; however, our research shows that if people really wanted to secure a system, they would also need to make sure that these devices can be trusted,” Mr. Shah said. “Unless they are particularly paranoid, however, the average person does not need to worry about spies breaking into their homes and installing JitterBugs.”

Almanac - December 19, 2006, Volume 53, No. 16