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Early this week, the Department of Nutrition took the first step in solving the problem of what causes the nation's number one Iatal disease, hardening of the arteries. It set up and began operating a new $20,000 ultracentroscope, a machine which is capable of spinning blood, in specially made cells, at the rate of 52,640 revolutions per minute.
The apparatus was purchased with money from a grant by the United States Health Service for the study of arterio-sclerosis.
Formerly thought to be a natural consequence of growing old, hardening of the arteries last year caused more deaths in the country than cancer. It is the basis of such maladies as heart disease, high blood pressure, and cerebral hemorrhage. However, last February, Dr. John Gauffman at the University of California discovered a peculiar molecule in the blood of people who were suffering from the disease which was not present in that of normal people he examined.
The molecule contains proteins, fat, and a peculiar substance known as colesterol which causes the blood to thicken and congeal.
What the ultracentroscope does is to isolate the molecule for study. It takes a specimen of the blood and whirls it around at a rapid rate until the heavier disease molecule drifts away from the other, normal molecules. By taking pictures of the path of this heavy molecule while it is being spun around, the presence, density, and influence of it in the blood can be determined.
Previously, arterio-sclerosis was treated in a number of ways: surgery, exercise, and rest. However, Dr. Frederick F. Stare, professor of Nutrition and director of the new research program, hopes to be able to control the disease by diet. The harmful molecule appears mainly in the blood of people who eat large amounts of eggs, meat, and milk. Hardening of the arteries is practically unknown in the rice centers of Asia. He is attempting to see whether, by changing the diet, he can stop the thickening of the blood, and if he can create the molecule in the blood of animals by feeding them large quantities of fats and protiens.
The department also has a second similar machine, doing the same type of work, purchased from funds allotted by the American Meat Institute last fall. Should the theory prove correct, the meat industry hopes to be able to devise a means to lessen the effect of proteins in forming colesterol.
In order to get the thousands of blood specimens necessary, the department will apply to big companies employing steady help, so that it can study the same people periodically. They have asked several Boston insurance firms to help.
Eventually the machine will be run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "We can't operate too quickly to bring this fatal disease under control," commented Stare.
Besides Harvard, the University of California and the University of Pittsburgh also receive federal grants for work on the disease.
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