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.

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