12 Days of Research at Mass General: Untangling the Connections Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Mental Illness

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

But before we get to the research, we want to thank you for following along with the Research Institute in 2017! We’ll be taking a short break over the holidays, but we can’t wait to continue sharing all the exciting research news and breakthroughs from Mass General in 2018!

December 2017:

Gatchel Untangles the Causes of Mood and Anxiety Symptoms and Loss of Brain Function in Aging Populations

Jennifer Gatchel studying Alzheimer's disease

Often referred to as the golden years, life after retirement can sometimes turn out to be less than sunny.

Dramatic lifestyle changes such as admittance to an assisted care facility and loss of mobility or independence can take a toll on mental health.

In fact, twenty percent of people over 55 suffer from a mental disorder, and two-thirds of nursing home residents exhibit mental and behavioral problems.

As a geriatric psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital, Jennifer Gatchel MD, PhD, works with adults ages 60 and over to help them cope with life’s transitions.

For many of her patients, symptoms of mental illness are often compounded by symptoms that indicate the onset of degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

“These are conditions I see every day in my practice that I find highly compelling,” says Gatchel. “Could psychiatric symptoms in older adults be driven in part by Alzheimer’s disease pathology and proteins impacting brain circuitry? If so, it would represent an important shift in the way we think about treating older adults presenting with these symptoms.”

Gatchel is using a combination of neuroimaging, cognitive testing, clinical assessments, and her ongoing interactions with patients to inform her research on the relationships between mood and anxiety symptoms and dementia.

She ultimately hopes to improve care and brain health for older patients and help them make the most of their golden years.

Measuring changes in brain structure and function

Gatchel uses positron-emission tomography (PET) neuroimaging to visualize amyloid and tau, the two proteins thought to be the core pathological drivers of Alzheimer’s disease, in living older adults.

By looking at amyloid and tau concurrently, both at a single time point and over time, she can follow individuals to see how the changes in their brain map onto the changes they are experiencing clinically.

To measure brain function and mental health, Gatchel asks participants and their families about observable changes in their mood, memory and performance of day-to-day activities. Participants also complete cognitive tests sensitive enough to pick up on small changes that may indicate degeneration in the brain.

Chicken or the egg scenario

In analyzing the data, Gatchel has found that the relationships between psychiatric and cognitive symptoms are very complex and akin to a chicken or the egg scenario.

“On the one hand, symptoms of depression or anxiety may be a precursor of Alzheimer’s disease, and may be among the earliest signs of the disease,” she explains.

“On the other end of the spectrum, recurrent episodes of depression may serve as risk factor for dementia. Also, older adults who have a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease may experience a reactive depression. It’s a complex question depending on which stage of the disease we’re looking at.”

She has unearthed some intriguing findings by looking at a cohort of older adults over the age of 60 with no reported cognitive impairments or psychiatric conditions enrolled in the Harvard Aging Brain Study, led by Drs. Reisa A. Sperling and Keith A.  Johnson.

Results thus far show that subclinical depressive symptoms in cognitively normal older adults are associated with accumulations of tau in a brain region affected in aging and early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

She has also carried out work with a cohort of younger adults from Colombia. This research, led by Dr. Yakeel T. Quiroz, looks at individuals who may carry a mutation in a single gene that gives rise to early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Similar to the Harvard Aging Brain Study, participants in the study had no reported cognitive impairments or psychiatric conditions at study entry.

Interestingly, Gatchel has found that subclinical symptoms of anxiety are associated with amyloid buildup, rather than tau pathology in this younger cohort.

Intrigued by these results, Gatchel plans to conduct future research to further disentangle the underlying pathology of depressive and anxiety symptoms, and to determine whether this differs across a range of symptom severity and in late onset vs. early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

One next step is to recruit an additional cohort of older adults with more severe psychiatric symptoms to complement the existing participants in the Harvard Aging Brain Study.

“We may be observing only a modest relationship between depressive symptoms and tau because individuals with more severe depressive symptoms were excluded from the study at entry,” says Gatchel.

“Would we see a stronger relationship if we examined individuals who had more severe depressive symptoms? Would we still observe a relationship with tau as compared to amyloid? Also, if we follow individuals over time, do those with more significant depressive or anxiety symptoms accumulate pathology more rapidly? These are just some of the questions we hope to address in the next phase of work.”

Gatchel will also continue to look to patients and clinical research participants to help her refine her research questions.

“It’s been incredibly helpful to maintain clinical practice as a psychiatrist,” she says. “My clinical encounters and relationships with patients are critical to informing the research process, and are continually changing the way I think about designing studies.

“It’s also extremely motivating to know that something you’re doing—a research question you are trying to tackle—could impact or improve clinical practice.”

You can find the original article here

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12 Days of Research at Mass General: An On-the-Go Test For Food Allergies

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

November 2017:

Pocket-Sized Device Provides Food Allergy Sufferers with Life-Saving Tableside Lab Results

If you’re among the 50 million Americans with a severe allergy to foods like gluten or nuts, every meal at a restaurant can feel like a potential land mine. Even if the restaurant has made an effort to provide dishes that are allergen-free, worries of cross-contamination and a subsequent severe or potentially life threatening reaction can still put a damper on your dinner plans.

To help ease concerns and keep food allergy sufferers safe, a team of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital has developed a new device small enough to fit on a keyring that costs only $40 and can quickly and accurately test for food allergens.

While advances have been made in the packaged food industry, where new federal regulations require the manufacturer to disclose whether the product contains major food allergens, these disclosures are not always accurate and there are no similar regulations for the restaurant industry.

Rather than force diners to completely avoid foods that have the chance of containing an allergen, or eat something only to regret it later, Mass General researchers created integrated exogenous antigen testing (iEAT), a pocket-sized device that can accurately analyze food for the presences of allergens in less than 10 minutes. Specifically, the device can screen for peanuts, hazelnuts, wheat, milk and eggs.

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The iEAT system

Developed by co-senior team leaders Ralph Weissleder, MD, PhD, Director of the Center for Systems Biology (CSB) at Mass General and Hakho Lee, PhD, Hostetter MGH Research Scholar and Director of the Biomedical Engineering Program at the CSB, the device consists of three components:

  1. A small plastic test tube that the user can put a small sample of food into. The tube contains a solution that dissolves the sample and adds magnetic beads to the solution. The beads are designed to bind to the food allergen of interest.
  2. The user can then drop the solution onto an electrode chip, which is inserted into the keychain sized reader.
  3. The reader analyzes the sample and indicates on a small display whether the allergen is present, and if so, in what concentration.

Testing performed by the research team showed that measurements of the concentration of the allergen is extremely accurate. In fact, the device could detect levels of gluten that were 200 times lower than the federal standard. Accuracy is key because everyone’s sensitivity varies — some individuals could experience a reaction after consuming a miniscule trace of an allergen.

Weissleder and Lee have also developed a smartphone app to complement iEAT. With the app, users can compile and store the data they collect as they test different foods for various allergens at different restaurants and even in packaged foods. The app is set up to share this information online so others with the app will be able to find restaurants with foods that consistently have no or low levels that are below the individual’s triggering concentration.

cell phone app

Consumers may be able to purchase the $40 iEAT device and corresponding app in the near future — the research team has granted a license to a local start-up company to make the system commercially available. Weissleder and Lee also report that they could apply this technology to detect other substances in food such as MSG or even pesticides.

This research was recently highlighted in an NIH article and published in ACS Nano.

It was also recently featured in a news story on CBS Boston.

You can find the original post here.

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12 Days of Research at Mass General: Modeling Alzheimer’s Disease in 3D

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

October 2017:

How a 3D Model of Alzheimer’s Disease is Providing New Hope in the Search for Treatments

Reigning in Alzheimer’s disease continues to be a challenge — more than 10 million families are affected by this degenerative neurological disease, and the number of patients dying from the disease has increased 68 percent since 2010.

In the past decade, attempts at developing drugs to slow or halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease have been unsuccessful. The traditional path for early testing of promising therapies – mouse models – has been ineffective, and more than a dozen major clinical trials have failed.

But scientists and clinicians at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease (MIND) have developed an innovative new approach that could significantly improve the drug development process.  The laboratory teams of Doo Yeon Kim, PhD, an investigator in the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at MIND, and Rudy Tanzi, PhD, have found a way to grow human neural stem cells in a three-dimensional gel matrix.

This gel system allows the neural cells to grow more naturally and form into 3-D networks just like they do in the brain. It also provides a more accurate model of the signature plaques and tangles that develop around these neurons in Alzheimer’s disease.

The stem cells used in this lab model are genetically engineered to produce two proteins that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease – β-amyloid and tau. In the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, excessive accumulation of β-amyloid results in the formation of plaques in the spaces between neural cells, while tau is the main component of destructive neurofibrillary tangles within the cells.

Until Dr. Kim’s success, no single model of Alzheimer’s disease contained both amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. It usually takes a year to develop plaques in mouse models, it took only six weeks to develop both plaques and tangles in the “dish.”

Dr. Kim is now working with a consortium of labs to test thousands of FDA-approved drugs in this “Alzheimer’s in a dish” model to see if any of the drugs are effective in reducing levels of p-tau, a protein that is increased in Alzheimer’s patients.

Of the 2,400 drugs that have been tested, the team had approximately 40 promising hits that they can now investigate further.

Learn more: https://giving.massgeneral.org/fresh-alzheimers-approach-sparks-hope/

You can find the original post here.

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12 Days of Research at Mass General: Lady Gaga News Highlights Fibromyalgia Research

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

September 2017:

Lady Gaga’s Diagnosis Helps Shed Light on a Perplexing Chronic Pain Disorder

Despite her celebrity status, Lady Gaga has been remarkably honest and open about her struggles with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder. The star announced her diagnosis on social media earlier this month, and just recently canceled tour dates due to disorder-related complications.

Fibromyalgia has traditionally been a challenge to diagnose and treat, because there is no test for it. Doctors make the diagnosis based on patient reported symptoms. Researchers at Mass General are hoping to change that by using imaging techniques to demonstrate brain changes in fibromyalgia patients and investigating potential causes for the disease.

What is fibromyalgia and what are the symptoms?

Fibromyalgia is a common chronic pain disorder that can be extremely debilitating. The disorder is characterized by widespread pain, accompanied with un-refreshing sleep, fatigue, memory and cognitive problems, sensitivity to temperatures, light, and sound, and headaches. It can also co-exist with other conditions including depression, anxiety and irritable bowel syndrome.

These symptoms severely impact the 5-10 million Americans living with this disorder. The pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia can make it difficult to maintain work and social obligations. Symptoms also come in waves at seemingly random intervals, which can blindside individuals.

What causes fibromyalgia?

It’s thought that disturbances in the central nervous system affect the way the brain processes pain signals, which amplifies the painful sensations that fibromyalgia patients experience. But why these disturbances occur remains a mystery.

Experts suggest that the disorder could be driven by several factors, including physical or emotional trauma, prior illness or infection, and genetics. Women are also more likely to develop fibromyalgia than are men, though researchers don’t know why.

In an effort to find answers to these questions, Marco Loggia, PhD, Associate Director of the Center for Integrative Pain NeuroImaging and a researcher in the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, studies the brain mechanisms of pain in patients with fibromyalgia. His research suggests that some degree of brain inflammation may be at play, given that brain inflammation is common among chronic back pain sufferers and most fibromyalgia patients suffer from chronic back pain.

How is it treated?

There is no cure for fibromyalgia. As a result, the focus of treatment is on managing pain and improving quality of life for patients. However, patients often struggle to find the right combination of treatments to manage their condition.

Clinicians often recommend medications including pain relievers, anti-depressants, and anti-seizure drugs to reduce pain and improve sleep. Some patients also utilize therapies such as physical therapy or counseling and alternative treatments like massage therapy, yoga or acupuncture.

Is there stigma associated with fibromyalgia?

Because there are no lab tests to diagnose fibromyalgia, patients are frequently met with skepticism, even by their own primary care team. The pain they report is often dismissed as being “all in their head.”

In a recent interview with HealthDay News, Loggia said, “Many studies—and particularly those using brain imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging—have now provided substantial support to the notion that the excessive sensitivity to pain that these patients demonstrate is genuine. I think that it is time to stop dismissing these patients.”

With celebrities like Lady Gaga raising awareness of this disease and researchers like Loggia investigating its causes and progression, could individuals suffering from fibromyalgia soon see advances in treatment and care—as well as more public understanding of this debilitating disorder?

To read more on this topic:

You can find the original post here.

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12 Days of Research at Mass General: Predicting Painful Migraine Attacks

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

August 2017:

Making Migraines Less of a Headache: Researchers Find New Way to Predict Migraine Attacks

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If you’ve ever felt the pulsating pain, nausea and blinding light sensitivity that comes with a migraine, you’re not alone. In the US, more than 37 million people get these severe headache attacks that can last for several hours at a time.

If you’ve experienced migraines, you also know that their arrival can be sudden and unpredictable. Now a team of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital has developed a new forecasting model that has the potential to pinpoint when a migraine will strike by tracking an individual’s stress levels over time.

While more work is needed before the model is ready for clinical use, a system that reliably predicts the onset of migraines could provide much needed relief for chronic migraine sufferers.

About Migraines

Migraines are more than just a bad headache – they are an incapacitating collection of neurological symptoms that affect 18% of American women and 6% of men, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. Symptoms range from flashes of light, one-sided throbbing pain, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and much more. Migraine attacks can be incredibly painful and debilitating, sometimes confining the sufferer to a darkened room until the symptoms subside. More than 90% of sufferers are unable to work or function normally during their migraine.

Doctors know that certain genes can make some individuals more susceptible to getting migraines, and potential migraine triggers can include stress, hormone fluctuations, lack of sleep and certain foods. However, predicting the exact cause and time of an individual migraine attack remains difficult. To make matters worse, preventative drugs that help to nip a migraine in the bud are only effective when taken at the onset of symptoms.

Developing and Testing a Forecast Model

Because perceived stress has received considerable attention for its association with the onset of headaches, a team of researchers led by Tim Houle, PhD, Associate Professor of Anesthesia, Critical Care, and Pain Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, developed a forecasting model for predicting future migraine attacks based on current levels of stress and head pain.

To test out the model, the team recruited 95 participants with a history of migraines. Participants were asked to keep a daily diary recording the frequency and intensity of their stress levels and presence/absence of any head pain. Each variable was measured using a specific scale.

Of the 4,195 days of analyzed diary data, participants experienced a migraine on 1,613 of these days (38.5%).  By analyzing participants’ self reported stress levels, the research team found statistically significant evidence that stress was greater in the days leading up to a reported migraine.

What This Means for Migraine Sufferers

The results provide the first statistically significant evidence that individual headache attacks can be forecasted within an individual sufferer. However, Houle cautions that the predictive model needs to be refined before it can be of widespread clinical use, and for now should be viewed as a first step in a new venture of forecasting migraine attacks.

In the future, a reliable forecasting model could be used to improve treatment options, reduce anxiety about the unpredictability of attacks and increase an individual’s confidence in their ability to self-manage migraine attacks.

Read the full study here

You can find the original post here.

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12 Days of Research at Mass General: A Strategy for Sneaking Drugs Into Tumor Cells

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

July 2017:

Could a Technique Echoing an Ancient Greek Military Strategy Point the Way to More Effective Cancer Treatments?

Trojan horse

According to Greek legend, the Trojan horse was a wooden structure built by Greek soldiers and presented to the Trojans as a gift after a long and fruitless siege of the city during the Trojan War. When the Trojans brought the gift horse within their city walls, the Greek soldiers who were hidden inside crept out under the cover of night and launched a deadly surprise attack. Historians continue to debate how much of the tale is based in fact and how much in myth.

At Massachusetts General Hospital, a real-life Trojan horse scenario that takes place on the nanoscale level could provide a way to sneak cancer drugs into fortified tumor cells so the drugs can attack from within.

Here are five things to know about a new study from the Mass General Center for Systems Biology:

1. Think of nanoparticles as the Trojan horses of cancer therapy. These tiny molecules (typically between 20 and 100 nanometers in size) are increasingly being used to transport drugs to a specific target in the body. The ability that researchers have to easily change the size and surface characteristics of the nanoparticles and control the time and location of the drug’s release makes them ideal for drug delivery systems.

2. Nanoparticles are small enough to carry the drugs (the Greek soldiers) through the body and can protect the encapsulated drug from toxic substances in the bloodstream that are used in infusion chemotherapy. However, in clinical practice, getting these nanoencapsulated drugs into patients’ tumors has been challenging—tumor blood vessels are difficult to break through, which limits the passage of any drugs from the bloodstream into tumor cells. Although it’s usually beneficial for blood vessels to maintain barrier function, their tough exteriors are a disadvantage in cancer therapies.

3. A 2015 study by Miles Miller, PhD, of the Center for Systems Biology, and his colleagues showed that tumor-associated macrophages — immune cells found around tumors that are in charge of engulfing pathogens, foreign materials and dead cells — can improve delivery of nanoparticle-based therapies to tumor cells. They also found that radiation therapy made it easier for substances to pass through tumor blood vessels. But exactly how these effects are produced and how they could be combined to enhance nanomedicine delivery was not known. Answering those questions was the goal of the current study.

4. Miller and his team found that macrophages can be prompted to act like Trojans, helping to bring the drugs inside the tumor, if the tumors are treated with radiation prior to administering the drugs. In the same way that a siege weakens the resistance of a city, the radiation weakens the blood vessels within the tumor. It also increases the number of macrophages attracted to tumor blood vessels which, in turn, pick up the drug-laden nanoparticles and bring them into the tumor. The sudden influx of macrophages into the weakened walls of the blood vessels causes many of the vessels to burst, thus flooding the tumor cells with the drug-laden nanoparticles and improving drug delivery by 600 percent.

5. “Finding that this combination of radiation and nanomedicine leads to synergistic tumor eradication in the laboratory provides motivation for clinical trials that combine tumor rewiring using radiation therapy with nanomedicine,” says Miller, who was lead author of the study. “Most of the treatments and nanomedicines employed in this study are FDA approved for cancer treatment, so this combination treatment strategy could be tested in clinical trials relatively quickly.”

Radiation & Macrophages

Ralph Weissleder, MD, PhD, Director of the MGH Center for Systems Biology is senior author of the Science Translational Medicine paper.

You can find the original post here.

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12 Days of Research at Mass General: Why Autistic Individuals Avoid Eye Contact

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

June 2017:

More Than Meets the Eye: Researchers Find Eye Contact Causes Stress and Overactivation in the Brains of Autistic Individuals

They say that eyes are the windows to the soul, but for individuals with autism, a lack of eye contact can reveal much more. A team of investigators based at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital has shed light on why those with autism often avoid looking others in the eyes.

Here are five things to know about the study published in Nature Scientific Reports this month:

  1. Individuals with autism often find it difficult to look others in the eyes. Many say that maintaining eye contact is uncomfortable or stressful for them – some will even say that “it burns” – which suggests the root of this discomfort is neurological.
  2. Previous work by Nouchine Hadjikhani, MD, PhD, Director of Neurolimbic Research in the Martinos Center and corresponding author of the new study, demonstrated that the subcortical system, the part of the brain activated by eye contact and responsible for processing emotions and facial recognition, was oversensitive to direct gaze and emotional expression in autistic individuals.
  3. In her most recent study, Hadjikhani presented images of faces conveying different emotions to study subjects with and without autism and measured their brain activity via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). When both groups were able to gaze at the images freely, there was no difference in subcortical activation.
  4. When the test was changed to narrow the focus to the eyes, Hadjikhani observed overactivation of the subcortical system in participants with autism. Images of fearful faces prompted the most significant response, but happy, angry and neutral faces had an effect as well. Their results support the idea that there is an imbalance between the brain’s “excitatory” network, which reacts to stimulation, and inhibitory network, which calms it down.
  5. The findings suggest that behavioral therapies that try to force individuals with autism to make eye contact could be counterproductive. A better approach may be to slowly introduce these individuals to eye contact so they can learn strategies for managing the accompanying sensations.

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12 Days of Research at Mass General: Do Alzheimer’s Patients Suffer Silent Seizures?

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

May 2017:

Researchers Detect “Silent” Seizures in Alzheimer’s Patients

First let’s define a key word:
Hippocampus: The brain structure responsible for memory development. The hippocampus is a key part of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease, and also a common source of seizures in people with epilepsy.

New research from Massachusetts General Hospital suggests a potential new connection between the devastating memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and “silent” seizures in the memory center of the brain.

The small study enrolled two female patients in their 60s with early AD and no known history of seizures. Because electrodes placed on the scalp are often unable to detect seizure activity deep in the brain, researchers surgically implanted electrodes on both sides of the brain through the foramen ovale (FO), a narrow opening at the base of the skull, in addition to scalp EEG. Each patient’s brain activity was monitored for 24 to 72 hours.

The FO electrodes recorded evidence of seizures in the hippocampuses of both patients, while the scalp EEG readings did not detect any abnormal electrical activity. Most notably, these seizures primarily occurred when patients were asleep, a critical time for memory consolidation.

“While it is not surprising to find dysfunction in brain networks in Alzheimer’s disease, our novel finding that networks involved in memory function can become silently epileptic could lead to opportunities to target that dysfunction with new or existing drugs to reduce symptoms or potentially alter the course of the disease,” says Andrew Cole, MD, Director of the Mass General Epilepsy Service and senior author of the Nature Medicine paper.

One patient received anti-seizure medicine as a treatment following the scan, which seemed to cut down on AD-linked symptoms such as confusion and repeating the same question. The other patient started on the medication but it had to be discontinued due to adverse effects on her mood.

A recent study led by Alice Lam, MD, PhD, also of the MGH Epilepsy Service and lead author of the current study, demonstrated a novel tool for detecting hippocampal seizures not detectible by scalp EEGs in patients with epilepsy. Cole and his team are working to refine this tool and apply it to AD.

Due to the small size of the study, further research is also needed to validate the results with a broader population.

You can find the original post here.

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12 Days of Research at Mass General: Aspirin and Risk of Cancer Death

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

April 2017:

New Study Finds Low-Dose Aspirin May Lower Risk of Cancer Death

63889039 - heap of round white tablets and plastic pills bottlenew study from Massachusetts General Hospital reports that long-term regular aspirin was associated with a lower risk of dying from various types of cancers.

Lead author, Yin Cao, MPH, ScD, a researcher in the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, and her team studied the health outcomes of approximately 86,000 women and 44,000 men who had been prescribed aspirin at various doses and duration over the course of 32 years.

The biggest benefit came from reducing colorectal cancer deaths: Men and women who regularly took aspirin reduced their chances of dying from colorectal cancer by a third. Women also reduced their risk of dying from breast cancer by 11 percent, while men were 23 percent less likely to die from prostate cancer. The benefit seemed to be greatest for people taking two to seven doses of regular-strength aspirin—325 mg per tablet—each week.

It’s still not entirely clear how aspirin lowers cancer risk. Researchers suspect that aspirin’s ability to lower inflammation and control inflammatory factors that may contribute to abnormal cell growth in tumors may reduce risk. Plus, its anticoagulant properties that prevent clots from forming may prevent cancerous cells that break away from tumors from sticking to other areas in the body and growing into metastatic tumors.

Regular aspirin use has already been recommended as a preventative measure against cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer.

Cao cautions that patients and physicians should consider all potential benefits and risks before beginning any new aspirin regimens. More work is needed to weigh these potential benefits against the risks of long-term use, which include gastrointestinal bleeding and hemorrhagic stroke.

The data of this study was presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2017, which took place earlier this month in Washington, DC.

You can find the original post here.

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12 Days of Research at Mass General: Lack of Sleep Can Impact Childhood Behavior

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

March 2017:

Children’s Sleep Habits Could Improve Their Ability to Focus, Make Friends and Solve Problems Later on in Childhood: Five Things to Know

A recent study by the MassGeneral Hospital for Children found that children ages 3 to 7 who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to have problems with attention, emotional control and relationship building later on in childhood. Here are five things to know about the study…

Young boy sleeping on bed with teddy bear

  1. The recommended amount of sleep for children is 11 hours or more at ages 3 to 4 year; and 10 hours or more at ages 5 to 7 years.
  2. A recent study from MassGeneral Hospital for Children reports that children ages 3 to 7 who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to have problems with attention, emotional control and peer relationships in mid-childhood (ages 7-10). The study found significant differences in the surveys responses of parents and teachers depending on how much sleep the 7-year-old children regularly received at younger ages.
  3. Analyzed data came from Project Viva, a long-term study that looks at the health impacts of several factors during pregnancy and after birth.  Information was gathered from mothers via interviews and questionnaires conducted at varying time points between when children were ages 6 months and 7 years old. Mothers and teachers were also sent surveys evaluating factors such as emotional symptoms and problems with conduct or peer relationships, when children were around 7.
  4. Among the 1,046 children enrolled in the study, those living in homes with lower household incomes and whose mothers had lower education levels were more likely to sleep less than nine hours at ages 5 to 7. Other factors associated with insufficient sleep include more television viewing and a higher body mass index. Sleep deficiencies also tend to be more prevalent in African American children. Sleep levels during infancy often predict levels at later ages, supporting the importance of promoting a good quantity and quality of sleep from the youngest ages.
  5. “Our previous studies have examined the role of insufficient sleep on chronic health problems – including obesity– in both mothers and children,” explains Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, chief of General Pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, who led the study.  “The results of this new study indicate that one way in which poor sleep may lead to these chronic disease outcomes is by its effects on inhibition, impulsivity and other behaviors that may lead to excess consumption of high-calorie foods. It will be important to study the longer-term effects of poor sleep on health and development as children enter adolescence.”

You can read more about this study here.

You can find the original post here.

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