Weekend Links

Couple lying in bed, top view
Photo courtesy of Proto Magazine

We’ve hand-picked a mix of Massachusetts General Hospital and other research-related news and stories for your weekend reading enjoyment:

Learning to See – A new artificial intelligence technique developed by researchers at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging dramatically improves the quality of medical imaging.

How to help manage your anxiety naturally with food – Being mindful about what you eat can help ease anxiety symptoms, says Dr. Uma Naidoo, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The Struggle to Build a Massive ‘Biobank’ of Patient Data – Mass General’s Sek Kathiresan discusses the benefits of a US biobank for research in this New York Times article.

How busy hands can alter our brain chemistry – Are you the kind of person who actually likes washing dishes? How about folding laundry? Yardwork? What all these have in common, of course, is they occupy our hands. And as it turns out, some researchers think that may be key to making our brains very happy.

Bumps in the Night – A barrage of well-timed noises may, surprisingly, make for a more restful night’s sleep.

When towns lose their newspapers, disease detectives are left flying blind – Epidemiologists rely on all kinds of data to detect the spread of disease, including reports from local and state agencies and social media. But local newspapers are critical to identifying outbreaks and forecasting their trajectories. What will happen as the American newspaper industry declines?

Science Fair Inspires

When Jovanny Joseph, an eighth-grader at Timilty Middle School, told his mentor Jamie Heather, PhD, a researcher in the Cobbold Lab in the MGH Cancer Center, that he planned to create his own Tesla coil for the school’s annual science fair Feb. 6, Heather was impressed.

“I’m from the U.K. where we don’t really have science fairs,” says Heather. “All of the American movies I’ve seen led me to believe that the room would be filled with erupting volcano models, so I was shocked when my mentee told me his plan to test the electric field of a Tesla coil. When I volunteered to judge, I hadn’t seen the finished product so I was excited to see if it worked – and it did!”

Science fair judges Karen Valdes and Kayla Robinson

Heather became a mentor to Joseph through the MGH’s long-standing partnership with Timilty Middle School in Roxbury. Every other Friday, the students visited their MGH mentors to work on their science fair projects, develop their hypotheses, discuss research strategies and put their presentations together.

More than 60 MGHers volunteered to judge the science fair this year, and 13 of the Timilty students in the MGH mentoring program have been selected to present their projects at the Boston citywide fair.

“It’s wonderful to see kids get excited about science, especially girls,” says Katia Canenguez, PhD, clinical fellow in Psychiatry. After reviewing the work of three eighth-grade girls, she said, “Their project documentationwas beautiful and they were so proud of their work. I hope they are inspired to fall in love with science just like I did at a young age.”

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Timilty student Djenie-Kha Edouard with Schrenker

Rick Schrenker, systems engineering manager in Biomedical Engineering, is a veteran science fair judge. He began volunteering as a judge more than 20 years ago, then took a break and returned to the science fair last year re-inspired. “Each year the kids are bright-eyed and care a lot about the work they have done,” he says. “Every once in a while a student says, ‘I didn’t get what I expected,’ and that takes a lot of courage. That’s what science is. They didn’t go back and change their hypotheses just to be proven right and that’s brave to admit.”


This article originally appeared in Mass General’s Hotline newsletter

Pediatrician Engages Communities to Make a Lasting Impact on Child Health

Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH

Ofer and Shelly Nemirovsky MGH Research Scholar

Chief of General Pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children

Executive Director of the Kraft Center for Community Health

Imagine you are a pediatric clinician in an urban community health center. You notice that the majority of your patients have the same triad of conditions – obesity, asthma and behavioral health problems.

You can encourage your patients to lose weight, prescribe asthma medication or connect them with psychiatric services, all of which may help the symptoms, but not the root cause. What can you do in the short time you have with each patient to address the determinants of these conditions?

This is the question Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, Ofer and Shelly Nemirovsky MGH Research Scholar, chief of General Pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, and Executive Director of the Kraft Center for Community Health, confronted while completing her pediatric residency in a Boston clinic serving inner-city youth.

“I started realizing that, although much of my work was providing one-on-one patient care for these conditions, so many of the determinants of the health and well-being of the children I cared for had more to do with their social and environmental conditions and not their clinical care,” says Taveras.

These experiences guided her decision to focus on a combination of clinical and community-based research approaches to address the causes of childhood health problems and reduce health disparities. While working in community settings presents a unique set of challenges, Taveras says the relationships that she has built and the potential to have a long-term impact make the work incredibly rewarding.

Engaging Diverse Stakeholders

Taveras has found that conducting research within a community requires an understanding of context and who the stakeholders are, what matters most to them, and the best ways to engage them in the research process.

“In the same way that we wouldn’t build a home without a blueprint from an architect, you can’t design an intervention for families without families’ voices to inform the work,” says Taveras.

Other stakeholders can range from youth-based organizations and public health practitioners to school administrators and representatives from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). These stakeholders are an integral part of their communities and understand the barriers to proper health and health care.

Mass General’s Focus on Community Research

At a local level, Taveras is encouraged to see how the hospital has elevated community health as a key component of its mission under the leadership of President Peter L. Slavin, MD. Mass General is one of the few academic medical centers in the country to incorporate a commitment to the community in its mission statement.

“I’m thrilled by Mass General’s national leadership in community health and the opportunity to serve disadvantaged populations through the Kraft Center,” says Taveras. “I’m optimistic about the changes that I’ve seen and how that reflects our institutional support for community health.”

Between Taveras’ individual efforts and those of Mass General and the Kraft Center, they may be able to address the root causes of health issues in the urban communities in Massachusetts—and extrapolate those results to other communities nationally.

“Tremendous inequities in health exist, largely attributable to poor access to high quality care as well as social and economic factors that are distributed unevenly based on income, race and ethnicity,” says Taveras. “We can transform the health of children and their families by increasing access to care, investing in bold new solutions that improve social and environmental conditions, and supporting the training of clinicians and researchers who want to improve outcomes for medically underserved communities.”

Weekend Links

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We’ve hand-picked a mix of Massachusetts General Hospital and other research-related news and stories for your weekend reading enjoyment:

A Painful Bruise Wouldn’t Heal. It Took Several Hospital Visits to Discover Why. – A 39 year old woman had been sick for months. She had seen many doctors and had been given a variety of diagnoses, but no one could tell her exactly what was wrong. Mass General physicians Vivek Naranbhai and Leigh Simmons put together a number of clues to find the answer.

Into the Depths – One measure of medicine’s progress is how far inside a living human body the physician can peer. Before X-rays and other imaging technologies, that job fell to ingenious devices and the naked eye. One of the most significant advances happened when a series of 19th-century innovations encountered the services of a professional sword swallower.

New ways scientists can help put science back into popular culture –  How can science integrate with the rest of human culture to intertwine with things like art, music, theater, film and even religion?

Scientists Aim To Pull Peer Review Out Of The 17th Century – The technology that drives science forward is forever accelerating, but the same can’t be said for science communication. The basic process still holds many vestiges from its early days — that is the 17th century. Some scientists are pressing to change that critical part of the scientific enterprise.

The continuing challenges for women in STEMM – Senior levels of science are male dominated, but work is underway to restore the balance

A Single Psychedelic Drug Trip Can Change Your Personality for Years – Researchers have found that individuals who took even a single dose of psychedelic drugs like LSD, “magic” mushrooms and ayahuasca could experience sustained personality changes that lasted several weeks, months or even years — but oftentimes, these changes were for the better.

 -top photo courtesy of Proto Magazine

Weekend Links


We’ve hand-picked a mix of Massachusetts General Hospital and other research-related news and stories for your holiday weekend reading enjoyment:

When love and science double date – coverage of research by Mass General psychiatrists Richard Schwartz and Jacqueline Olds, mentions study led by Mass General investigator Robert Waldinger

Caring for Ms. L. — Overcoming My Fear of Treating Opioid Use Disorder – written by MGH Chelsea Health Center physician Audrey Provenzano

Fecal transplants move into the mainstream to treat difficult infection – features research by Mass General investigator Elizabeth Hohmann

Go Figure: Why Olympic Ice Skaters Don’t Fall Flat on Their Faces

Nature, Meet Nurture

Top illustration by Sophie Blackall

Could Strenuous Exercise Be Bad for Your Heart?

marathon running.jpgIf you’ve noticed a trend in runners signing up for half-, full-, or even ultra-marathons, it isn’t just your subconscious guilting you into exercising — the number of recreational endurance exercise participants has in fact increased in recent years, and RunningUSA predicts the number of participants will continue to rise.

Research has already confirmed that moderate-intensity exercise (like walking briskly, water aerobics, or tennis) on a regular basis can improve heart health. But a recent review conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital’s Aaron L Baggish, MD, director of the Corrigan Minehan Heart Center Cardiovascular Performance Program, found that the same may not be applicable for high-intensity, strenuous exercise. His results were recently published in Current Atherosclerosis Reports.

What did the report find?

Baggish found that among endurance athletes, long-term training has been associated with early onset atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat), changes in the size, shape, structure, and function of the heart, and increased coronary artery calcifications which increases risk for heart attacks and heart failure.

Additionally, data suggests that long-term participation in strenuous levels of physical activity may reduce the life-saving benefits associated with moderate-intensity exercise.

What are the implications for clinicians and patients?

The studies reviewed in this report have produced data that is worth a closer look, but Baggish says that it is too early to draw any definitive solutions. Many of the studies had too small of a sample size to provide any generalizable findings.

Based on the data available, there is no definitive evidence to support clinicians advising against high doses of exercise in healthy athletes. Clinicians who care for highly-active patients should monitor for signs of heart conditions and establish an open dialogue with patients and collaborate on decision making regarding exercise plans.

The results also shouldn’t discourage individuals from sticking to a consistent exercise routine. The American Heart Association suggests at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity). Visit the AHA’s website to get ideas on exercise activities.

This article has been adapted from a post on Massachusetts General Hospital’s Advances in Motion.

Weekend Links

Tiny organoids on a thumb

We’ve hand-picked a mix of Massachusetts General Hospital and other research-related news and stories for your weekend reading enjoyment:

Tiny Marvels – Miniature versions of organs help scientists understand disease and fine-tune treatments in ways that work in mice can’t match.

Global C-Section Rates on the Rise – Caesarean section rates have increased in most countries during the past decade, with substantial variations between and within countries, Massachusetts General Hospital researchers reported.

Study links smartphone use with depression in teens – Research from Steven Schlozman, a child psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, suggests excessive cell phone use by teens may be contributing to a mental health crisis in that age group.

Why teenagers eat Tide pods

A Mysterious Amnesia, Related to Opioid Overdose, Creeps Beyond New England

The Communicator’s Art – Richard Besser’s insights from a career talking public health to the public

top photo courtesy of Proto Magazine

Research Your Resolution: Maintain an Exercise Routine for Health Benefits Beyond Weight Loss


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Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, MPA, FAAP, FACP, FTOS

Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, MPA, FAAP, FACP, FTOS, is an Obesity Medicine Physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center, an Associate at the Mass General Disparities Solution Center, and Associated Faculty at the Mass General Mongan Institute for Health Policy. Her research and clinical practice take a holistic approach to both treat and advocate for patients who have obesity. Read more about her research.

Many people believe that exercise will lead to significant weight loss. However, studies have shown that exercise is a great way to help maintain your current weight.

When patients, especially those who struggle with overweight or obesity, do not experience weight loss after embarking on exercise program, they tend to get discouraged and revert back to inactivity.

It is important to keep up the activity because of the numerous health benefits for not only maintaining one’s weight, but also for heart health, improved mood, and longevity.

Research Your Resolution

Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more.

Massachusetts General Hospital is home to the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, a community of more than 10,000 people working across 30 departments, centers and institutes. The Mass General Research Institute works to support, guide and promote these research initiatives.

Research from Mass General Clinicians Highlights the Growing Opioid Problem and Its Impact on Health Outcomes

Opioid-related hospitalization

The opioid epidemic continues to devastate the United States, with drug overdose deaths and opioid-related health complications on the rise. According to the CDC, from 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses, and 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

The introduction of initiatives such as needle exchange programs and Narcan trainings provide hope for curbing infection and overdose rates. But what happens to opioid users who still require hospitalization? New research from Massachusetts General Hospital provides a new glimpse into the health outcomes for opioid-related hospitalizations.

Spike in opioid-related deaths during hospital stays

Between 1993 and 2014, four times as many patients died from opioid-related causes in the hospital, rising from 0.43 percent to 2.02 percent.

Opioid-driven deaths during hospital stays in the United States quadrupled between 1993 and 2014, according to a recent study published in Health Affairs.

Lead author Zirui Song, MD, PhD, a physician at Mass General, analyzed nearly 385,000 hospital stays involving patients who were admitted for opioid use. Song found that by 2014, four times as many patients were dying from opioid-related causes in the hospital, rising from 0.43 percent before 2000 to 2.02 percent.

The rate of opioid-driven hospitalizations remained relatively stable, but patients were increasingly likely to be hospitalized for deadlier conditions such as opioid poisoning. Before 2000, most hospitalizations were for opioid dependence and abuse.

The average age for patients admitted to the hospital for opioid use was 39 years old, highlighting how opioid addiction can strike while patients are still in the prime of life.

The majority of patients were also white. From 1993 to 2014, the number of black and Hispanic patients admitted to hospitals for opioid or heroin poisoning remained relatively stable.

However, that rate among white patients doubled between 2007 and 2013. With about 30,000 cases, they were the “largest and fastest-growing share of hospitalizations” in recent years, according to the Health Affairs article.

While the data alone can’t explain why more people are dying with opioids in their system after being admitted to the hospital, Song suggests it may be due in part to the rise of fentanyl, which is much stronger and cheaper than heroin or prescription opioids.

Additionally, efforts to treat people where they are — in the field, or at clinics or urgent care facilities — could mean that hospitals tend to admit patients who “are higher risk and more severe,” he said.

Song said the study is intended to raise awareness of the need for better strategies for hospitals when patients are admitted for using opioids, in addition to continuing and improving public health and community strategies already underway.

Rise of infections in the emergency room

As the number of opioid-related deaths continue to grow, clinicians are also seeing increased numbers of opioid-related infections, which often lead to dire complications.

When a patient comes to the emergency department (ED) seeking care for an infection resulting from injecting highly addictive opioids like heroin, fentanyl and oxycodone, emergency radiologists are often the first to diagnose complications, using X-rays, MRIs, CT scans and ultrasounds to spot an infection.

“Radiology is central to patient care in the Emergency Department setting. We need to be actively advocating for these patients and giving them an opportunity to take steps into recovery.”

Infections often occur at the injection site, either from bacteria mixed in the drug, on a dirty needle or on dirty skin through which the needle passes. The bacteria can also grow in the bloodstream and accumulate and grow into either the heart valves, or branch out to the lungs, brain and spine, where they continue to grow and cause chronic, debilitating diseases which can require multiple surgeries and long-term care. The data proves that these diseases and associated complications can also be fatal.

Looking at the data of more than 1,000 substance abuse patients who sought care for opioid injection-related infections between 2005 and 2016, Mass General radiologists Efren Flores, MD, and Renata R. Almeida, MD, MSc, found a dramatic increase in patients coming into EDs with complications associated with injecting opioids.

The research team found that 121 of the 1,031 patients, or nearly 12 percent, died before the end of the study period. The mortality rate was 14 percent for patients with a positive imaging diagnosis of substance-abuse-related complications – significantly higher than the 10 percent rate for patients with no such history.

These results were presented at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) 2017 Annual Meeting in a session called “Radiology in the Midst of the Opioid Epidemic”.

Two-thirds of patients in the study were men. Similar to patients in Song’s research, 78 percent were white and the average age was 36 years old.

Both research studies highlight the severity of the opioid epidemic and how everyone in healthcare has a role to play in helping patients with their illness.

“Radiology is central to patient care in the Emergency Department setting,” said Flores during RSNA 2017. “We need to be actively advocating for these patients and giving them an opportunity to take steps into recovery.”

“These results are just scratching the surface of what health professionals and policymakers could use to help patients and the public,” said Song, “and the picture they paint is concerning.”

In Case You Missed it: Science Stories from Around the Web

We love good science stories here at the Mass General Research Institute and wanted to share a few of our favorites from other health and science websites. Enjoy!

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The best and worst analogies for CRISPR, ranked

From a knockout punch to an act of God, CRISPR technology has drawn comparisons to a vast array of things. Here is a list of 10 analogies ranked from worst to best. (STAT)

Is ‘Man Flu’ real? Men suffer more when sick, study suggests

A research team in the United Kingdom found evidence that men may have a weaker immune response to the viruses that cause the flu or common cold, and as a result, men may have a greater risk for serious symptoms.

It’s time to stop excluding people with disabilities from science

You can be a great scientist without being able to carry a 50-pound backpack out of cave, writes Gabriela Serrato Marks, a Marine Geologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Altmetric’s Top 100 Articles of the Year

In the past year, Altmetric has tracked over 18.5 million mentions of 2.2 million research outputs. Here are the Top 100 ranked in order of their Altmetric Attention Score as of Nov. 15, 2017.

What is really driving the Altmetric’s Top 100 Articles List

“There is a data availability problem plaguing Altmetric’s annual top 100 list,” argues Kent Anderson of Scholarly Kitchen in this detailed critical breakdown of how the rankings are compiled. But Anderson also concludes that “Overall, the Top 100 list remains interesting, and perhaps data availability and other elements will improve over time.”

How loneliness affects our health

Scientists are gaining a more refined—and surprising—understanding of the effects of loneliness and isolation on health. (New York Times)

Jawdropping images reveal science is amazing

Photos are said to be worth “a thousand words.” And that’s what the Royal Society looks for when judging images for their Publishing Photography Competition, which celebrates the power of photography to communicate science.

Study: Opioids overused in migraine treatment, regardless of race

African Americans are more likely to experience debilitating migraine headaches than whites, but a new study probing the issue found no evidence of racial disparities in treatment practices. Instead, researchers from the University of Michigan report a different finding that affects everyone: opioid overuse.

Check out this video of perspiration on a human fingertip

This incredible up close video shows drops of sweat forming on the ridges of human fingertips. It was the second place winner in the video portion of the Nikon Small World Competition this year.

Neuroscience can learn a lot from Buddhism

A scientist and a monk compare notes on mediation, therapy and their effects on the brain. (Atlantic Monthly)