New Method for Testing Blood Sugar Levels Could Improve Diabetes Monitoring

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a new method for measuring blood sugar levels in diabetes patients that could reduce testing errors by 50 percent.

The new method, which uses a mathematical formula that factors in the average age of a person’s red blood cells (RBCs) in addition to the cells’ overall blood sugar content, could help to improve the accuracy of most commonly used test, known as A1C.

The A1C test is designed to measure the amount of sugar absorbed by RBCs in the body over a period of time. The problem with getting an accurate diagnosis is that older RBCs tend to absorb more blood sugar over time, while newer RBCs soak up less.

Blood cells can live in the body for roughly 90 to 120 days, and cell lifespan varies from one patient to the next.

By incorporating a mathematical formula that accounts for the average age of RBCs in the body, researchers can reduce the errors caused both by older, more glucose-dense blood cells in someone whose RBC lifespan is longer than average, and by the younger, less glucose-dense blood cells in someone whose RBC lifespan is shorter.

An accurate measure of blood sugar levels is crucial for diabetes patients, as persistently elevated levels can damage the heart, brain, kidneys, eyes, nerves and other organs.

John Higgins, MD, of the Center for Systems Biology, is corresponding author of the study.

New Mass General Studies May Unlock Mysteries of Asthma


What makes an asthma attack different from an allergic reaction?

Thanks to some groundbreaking technology, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital may have uncovered new clues.

They recently used an innovative new imaging tool, in combination with a new technique for investigating the allergic immune response, to determine why some individuals with allergies to airborne allergens develop asthma while others do not.

In one study, researchers demonstrated that participants with mild allergic asthma have thicker smooth muscle tissue in their airway passages than participants with allergy alone.

A companion study showed that the airways of asthmatic participants had a greater activation of a specific type of immune cell when exposed to airborne allergens.

The results suggest that a combination of contraction by these thicker layers of smooth muscle, increased inflammation due to T cell activation and the secretion of sticky mucus contribute to the breathing difficulties experienced during an asthma attacks.


Andrew Luster, MD, PhD, Benjamin Medoff, MD, Melissa Suter, PhD, and James Moon, PhD, all made key contributions to the study.

Mass General Scientists are Growing New Hearts in the Cells of Old Ones

(From an article in Atlas Obscura by Sarah Laskow)

For decades now, there’s been an image of human regeneration being a few cells dividing in a petri dish, hopefully growing into a shiny new organ. But the truth is that scientists’ work is a bit more macabre. To make a new organ, it helps to be working from a dead one.

That goes for hearts, too. A little more than a decade ago, Dr. Harald Ott, now a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School, developed a procedure that could rinse an organ of its cells, leaving behind an empty structure that can be repopulated with new ones. In the lab, Ott and his colleagues have taken ghostly hearts and resurrected them as new ones. Shocked with electrical pulses, those new hearts have even started beating again.


Study Strengthens Evidence That Mental Activity Reduces Dementia Risk

Do you enjoy mind-stimulating activities such as reading, playing brain games or attending cultural events?

The evidence is growing that they can boost your brain functioning and delay the development of Alzheimer’s disease or other age-associated dementias. While previous research studies have suggested this link, questions remained as to whether there was a real cause-and-effect relationship, or if the results were biased by other factors, such as
socioeconomic status or preexisting mental health conditions.

A research team from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health recently analyzed 12 peer-reviewed studies suggesting a positive link between late-in-life cognitive activities and the delayed onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

They concluded that any bias that outside factors might have played would not have been significant enough to change the positive outcomes.

“Cognitive activity looks like it may offer some modest protection, and based on our bias analysis I am somewhat less skeptical about the results of the previous studies,” says Deborah Blacker, MD, ScD, of the Mass General Gerontology Unit, senior author of the report. “But remember that any impact will be relative, not absolute.”

“I typically advise people to engage in cognitive activities that they find interesting and enjoyable for their own sake. There is no evidence that one kind of activity is better than another, so I would advise against spending money on programs claiming to protect against dementia.”