Researchers and Clinicians Revolutionize Prevention Efforts for Brain Disease

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What if you had a strong family history of Alzheimer’s disease, but weren’t currently showing any symptoms? What could you do to stave off the cognitive decline and loss of memory associated with this devastating disease? A team of researchers and clinicians at Massachusetts General Hospital wants to be your resource in situations like these.

The Institute for Brain Health at Mass General is revolutionizing the way we treat brain disease by developing new strategies for prevention, risk reduction and early treatment. They work with individuals who are at high genetic risk for brain diseases as well as healthy individuals who want to maintain good brain function as they age.

The Institute encourages life-long relationships with its patients to support the establishment of healthy brain habits and to provide guidance when new illnesses develop that can impact the brain. In doing so, the research team is able to collect longitudinal data about the development and progression of brain diseases throughout the life cycle. This data is helping to advance understanding about the progression of diseases like Alzheimer’s, in which so much is still unknown.

Learn more about the Institute for Brain Health in this article.

The Research Institute:
Saving Lives Through Science
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The Massachusetts General Hospital Research Institute is the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with a community of over 10,000 people working across more than 30 institutes, centers and departments.

Our researchers work side-by-side with physicians to pioneer the latest scientific advancements for curing disease and healing patients in Boston, across the United States and around the world.

To learn more about the Research Institute, please visit our website.

Hackathon Revolutionizes Care with Plan to Reduce Deadly Opiate Overdoses

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Members of We Are Allies, from left, Jessica Moreno, PharmD, Kristian Olson, MD, and Benjamin Bearnot, MD

When it comes to stopping the deadly effects of an opiate overdose, time is of the essence. Every moment that the brain is deprived of oxygen increases the risk of permanent damage or death. Overdoses can be reversed by administering a drug called Narcan, but the treatment has to be delivered quickly. A team of clinical specialists at Massachusetts General Hospital is hoping to revolutionize the way we respond to overdoses by putting Narcan in the hands of team of citizen volunteers who are ready to help whenever—and wherever—an overdose happens.

The Opioid Epidemic

There were 1,531 confirmed deaths attributed to opioid overdoses in Massachusetts in 2015, according to statistics recently released by the state. With the opioid epidemic continuing to spiral out of control nationwide, there’s a need to find a solution to curb the staggering number of deaths by overdose.

Help could be on the way thanks to an innovative new concept that emerged from a Fall 2016 hackathon put on by the Center for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) and Global Medicine at Mass General and sponsored by the GE Foundation.

The Allies Concept

The three-day hackathon provided an opportunity for three Mass General specialists—Kristian Olson, MD, the Medical Director of CAMTech and a core educator in the Department of Medicine, Benjamin Bearnot, MD, a primary care physician and Innovation Fellow at MGH Charlestown, and Jessica Moreno, PharmD, a clinical pharmacist at Mass General—to collaborate on a plan for reversing overdoses before they do lasting damage.

Olson, Bearnot and Moreno were part of a nine-person team that also featured an industrial designer, an engineer, an industry pharmacologist, and importantly, people in recovery.

Their plan, titled We Are Allies, calls for equipping everyday citizen volunteers with an easy to administer spray version of anti-overdose drug naloxone, commonly known by the brand name Narcan®.

Overdoses can be deadly because opiates bind to receptors in the brain and spinal cord that are responsible for keeping us breathing. When an overdose occurs, these receptors can slow down or stop working all together, which means the body can essentially “forget” to keep breathing. Naloxone reverses the effects of an overdose by releasing the hold that opiates have on the receptors.

It does not have an adverse affect on someone who is not having an opioid overdose, which makes it safe to administer if an overdose is suspected but not confirmed.

The team believes that getting naloxone into the hands of more people will increase the odds that someone will be nearby to help when an overdose occurs. Naloxone is relatively easy to get and safe to use, but many people—even doctors—don’t carry it with them on a regular basis.

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The Allies’ distinctive purple carrying case is designed to let others know that the person is carrying the anti-overdose drug naloxone

Another key component of the team’s plan is to have the Allies carry their naloxone in a bright purple pouch that can be attached to their handbag or workbag. This distinctive design will let others know that the person is carrying naloxone and is ready to help if needed.

“Not enough people have easy access to this life-saving medication, especially in situations where it is needed most,” says Moreno. “On top of that, those who do need it may be afraid or ashamed to seek it out due to the stigma they face every day. We hope to address both of these issues head-on by encouraging Allies to essentially wear the naloxone on their sleeves in our carrying cases.”

Reducing Stigma

The team hopes the high visibility purple pouches and indicator pins will also raise the public profile of the Allies in the community, which may help to foster new conversations about opioid use disorder and reduce the stigma and sense of isolation that many who suffer from the disorder experience.

“We thought that ‘ally’ was such a great term,” explained Olson. “We rallied around it because it changed the notion of isolation. We wanted to say; ‘We’re all allies in fighting opioid use disorder.’”

For more details on the program including training videos and information on how to sign up as an ally, please visit http://www.becomeanally.com/.

Revolutionizing Care at Mass General

Four pillars of MGH

Massachusetts General Hospital was established to provide care to Boston’s sick, regardless of socioeconomic status—an innovative idea in 1811. In the words of our founder, Dr. John Warren, “When in distress, every man becomes our neighbor.” We then became the first teaching hospital for Harvard University’s new medical school and have been redefining excellence in health care ever since.

Today we remain committed to that mission through our four pillars: we provide exceptional patient care, perform more medical research than any other hospital, educate tomorrow’s brightest medical minds and maintain a deep-seated commitment to the community.

Check out our #RevolutionizingCare series which highlights the ways our dedicated, talented staff are upholding our mission to care, investigate, educate and serve: