Could Alzheimer’s Stem From Infections? It Makes Sense, Experts Say

(Article highlighting new research from investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston University and the University of Melbourne)

A protein called Aβ is thought to cause neuronal death in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Aβ forms insoluble aggregates in the brains of patients with AD, which are a hallmark of the disease. Aβ and its propensity for aggregation are widely viewed as intrinsically abnormal.

However, in new work, Kumar et al. show that Aβ is a natural antibiotic that protects the brain from infection. Most surprisingly, Aβ aggregates trap and imprison bacterial pathogens. It remains unclear whether Aβ is fighting a real or falsely perceived infection in AD. However, in any case, these findings identify inflammatory pathways as potential new
drug targets for treating AD.

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New Material Temporarily Tightens Skin

Scientists at MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, Living Proof, and Olivo Labs have developed a new material that can temporarily protect and tighten skin, and smooth wrinkles. With further development, it could also be used to deliver drugs to help treat skin conditions such as eczema and other types of dermatitis.

The material, a silicone-based polymer that could be applied on the skin as a thin, imperceptible coating, mimics the mechanical and elastic properties of healthy, youthful skin. In tests with human subjects, the researchers found that the material was able to reshape “eye bags” under the lower eyelids and also enhance skin hydration. This type of “second skin” could also be adapted to provide long-lasting ultraviolet protection, the researchers say.

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Intravenous Ketamine May Rapidly Reduce Suicidal Thinking in Depressed Patients

A Massachusetts General Hospital research team recently found that intravenous treatment with low doses of the anesthetic drug ketamine quickly reduced suicidal thoughts in a small group of patients with treatment-resistant depression.

The study found that the ketamine injections, when combined with the patient’s current antidepressant medication, quickly decreased suicidal thinking in patients who had experienced suicidal thoughts for three months or longer.

Ketamine treatment could provide a viable alternative to medications such as lithium and clozapine, which are currently used to treat suicidal thoughts. Both of these drugs can have serious side effects, requiring the careful monitoring of blood levels.

More research will now be needed to test the ketamine treatment versus a placebo and to confirm the results in a larger study group.

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First Genitourinary Vascularized Composite Allograft (Penile) Transplant in the Nation Performed at Massachusetts General Hospital

The landmark procedure represents the culmination of more than 3½ years of research and collaboration across multiple departments and divisions within Massachusetts General Hospital – including Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Urology, Psychiatry, Infectious Disease, Nursing and Social Work – all of which are part of the Mass General Transplant Center.

STATEMENT FROM THE PATIENT

“In 2012, my life changed forever when I suffered a debilitating work accident, followed by a devastating cancer diagnosis. Today, I begin a new chapter filled with personal hope and hope for others who have suffered genital injuries, particularly for our service members who put their lives on the line and suffer serious damage as a result. I want to thank the extraordinary medical team here at Mass General, who helped not only make this possible, but quite literally saved my life.

“I would also like to sincerely thank the family of the donor, whose wonderful gift has truly give me the second chance I never thought possible. I thank my mother for standing by my side and helping me through each step of the way. In sharing this success with all of you, it’s my hope we can usher in a bright future for this type of transplantation. Thank you.”

Thomas Manning, 64, Halifax, MA

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Research Roundup

The Research Roundup is a monthly series highlighting research studies, news and events from the Massachusetts General Hospital Research Institute.

Mapping the wandering mind

Do you ever find your mind wandering? You are not alone. Studies show that we spend 30 to 50 percent of our waking hours unfocused on the task at hand. But why? Researchers at the MGH’s Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging used functional MRI (fMRI) technology to identify changes in brain activity that take place between focused and unfocused states of mind. Learning more about the dynamics of attention shifts could eventually help scientists answer questions such as: “How do thought patterns emerge?” and “How do people make decisions on a day-to-day basis?”

Marijuana and the brain

A new MGH research study found that the brains of young adult marijuana users react differently to experiences of social exclusion than those of non-users. Using a computer simulation that mimics playing a game of catch with two other people, researchers found that the area of the brain that typically activates during social rejection reacted less in marijuana users than in non-users when they were excluded from the game. More research is needed to determine if this change in brain state results in real-life changes in social behavior.

Regenerating heart tissue

A team of researchers at the MGH Center for Regenerative Medicine have grown functional heart tissue using donated human hearts that have been stripped of their cells. While growing an entire human heart is still far off, the scientists said tissue grown from a patient’s own cells may lead to patches to replace cardiac tissue damaged during a heart attack.

Can oxytocin prevent obesity?

Researchers at the MGH are investigating whether doses of synthetic oxytocin – a hormone produced naturally in the brain – could help to curb obesity by improving self-control. A recent study showed that a group of overweight/obese male subjects who took a
nasal spray of oxytocin prior to playing a computer game had more control over their behavior and acted less impulsively. A previous study determined that a dose of oxytocin spray could reduce food and fat intake without affecting appetite, but researchers were not
able to determine why the spray had this effect. More research is now needed to confirm these results in female subjects.

Study leads to new heart procedure

Physicians at the Fireman Vascular Center are now offering transcarotid artery revascularization (TCAR), a new and less invasive treatment for carotid artery disease. The new process, which was tested in a worldwide clinical trial led in the United States by two MGH physicians, involves accessing the common carotid artery through a small incision above the collarbone. This reduces the risk of suffering a stroke during the procedure and other complications associated with more conventional surgical approaches. The MGH was the first hospital in the Boston area to offer this procedure.