Category: Health & Medicine

Researchers find virtual computer-based world an effective learning environment

February 26th, 2014 in 2014, Health & Medicine, School of Medicine 0 comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, February 26, 2014
Contact: Gina DiGravio, 617-638-8480, gina.digravio@bmc.org

(Boston)–Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) researchers have demonstrated the potential of using a virtual computer environment for distance healthcare education for an international audience that often has limited access to conventional teaching and training. In this pilot project led by John Wiecha, MD, corresponding author of the study and associate professor of family medicine at BUSM, a virtual world was created in which participants engaged in a learning activity by creating virtual avatars of themselves to navigate through a three-dimensional computer environment and engage in educational activities. This study currently appears online in BMC Medical Education http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6920/14/36.

In many developing nations, access to traditional health care education can be limited as professionals may lack financial resources and live and work in remote areas with poor infrastructure or in a conflict zone. However, with the increase in Internet coverage in the past few years, distance learning has become an important way to offer health care professionals in these areas the opportunity to increase their clinical and research skills.

However, many current online platforms for training and exchanging ideas like webinars and online discussion boards are two dimensional and limit the way educational information can be designed according to the researchers.

 

A virtual world (VW) is an immersive, online environment that functions in real time for shared experiences and the exchange of ideas and information. Participants in the project navigated the VW as avatars or three-dimensional representations of themselves. They were able to follow the course director through a series of learning stations with questions and discussions occurring in real time.

 

“We created and delivered, in collaboration with the World Health Organization and the Geneva Foundation for Medical Educational Research, an interactive lecture on population control, for students from around the world,” says Wiecha. “The easy exchange of ideas with people from all over the globe gave the course a uniquely collaborative feeling. The program was successful and highly rated by participants, demonstrating the great potential for this new mode of highly interactive distance education pedagogy,” he added.

Also contributing to this study were Marloes M. Schoonheim, PhD, from the Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research and  Robin Heyden from the education consulting company Heyden Ty.

Controlling biology with biomaterials: David J. Mooney to talk at BU Thursday, March 13

February 14th, 2014 in 2014, Goldman School of Dental Medicine, Health & Medicine, News Releases 0 comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 12, 2014

Contact:  Jackie Simon
Associate Director of Publications & Media Relations
Boston University Henry M. Goldman
School of Dental Medicine
617-638-4892, jackier@bu.edu

(Boston) – There are hundreds of clinical trials of cell therapy currently underway, but simple cell infusions lead to large-scale cell death, little control over cell fate, and a typically poor clinical outcome.

In contrast, biomaterials can be used to serve as cell carriers or attractors of host cell populations, and to then program the cells in vivo. David J. Mooney will discuss the potential of biomaterials to regulate cell biology in processes as diverse as tissue regeneration and therapeutic cancer vaccines in the keynote lecture, “Controlling biology with biomaterials: from bone regeneration to cancer vaccines” from 1 to 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 13, 2014, at Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine’s Science Day in Hiebert Lounge, 72 East Concord Street, 14th floor.

Science Day is a research celebration featuring posters and oral presentations by pre- and post-doctoral dental students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty and staff. A dental vendor exhibition runs in conjunction with the research presentations. The event is free and open to the public.

Mooney is the Robert P. Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He is a Founding Core Faculty Member, Platform Lead, Programmable Nanomaterials at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.

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His laboratory is focused on the design and synthesis of biomaterials that regulate the fate of either cells already resident in the body, or transplanted cell populations.

Dr. Mooney earned a BS in Chemical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin and PhD in Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. He has won numerous research awards, and received the Phi Beta Kappa Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and the Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award from Harvard College. His inventions have been licensed by 11 companies, and he is active on industrial scientific advisory boards.

For more information about Science Day, visit bu.edu/dental/scienceday.

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About Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine: Founded in 1963, the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine is the premier academic dental institution promoting excellence in dental education, research, oral health care, and community service to improve the overall health of the global population. With a faculty of more than 325 educators, clinicians, and researchers and more than 250 staff members, the School offers a full spectrum of pre-doctoral and post-doctoral specialty education programs and a complete range of graduate programs and degrees to more than 700 students.

About Boston University: Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 33,000 students, it is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States. BU consists of 16 schools and colleges, along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes integral to the University’s research and teaching mission. In 2012, BU joined the Association of American Universities (AAU), a consortium of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada.

 

Review Paper Examines Clinical and Policy Implications of Intimate Partner Violence Among Women Veterans

February 12th, 2014 in 2014, Health & Medicine, News Releases, School of Medicine 0 comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, February 12, 2014
Contact: Gina DiGravio, 617-638-8480, gina.digravio@bmc.org

(Boston) –Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a serious public health concern for all, however women who experience IPV are more likely to sustain injury and report adverse health consequences. An expanding body of research suggests that experience of IPV is common in women veterans (WV), particularly those who access Veterans Health Administration (VA) services.

In a review paper currently available online in the Journal of Women’s Health, Megan R. Gerber, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine, Boston University School of Medicine and Medical Director, Women’s Health, VA Boston Healthcare System Primary Care Service Line Manager Women’s Health, VISN 1 Director Women’s Health Fellowship VA BHS, explores clinical and policy implications for the VA.

 

“With unprecedented numbers of women serving in the military and subsequently becoming veterans, it is critical that clinicians and advocates caring for women Veterans understand the impact of IPV on this population,” explains Gerber.

 

According to Gerber, women veterans have unique risk factors for experiencing IPV including high rates of pre-military trauma as well as military sexual trauma and PTSD. “Correlates of IPV, traumatic brain injury and homelessness, are common among this group. While research on women veterans’ health and IPV is emergent, evidence suggests that IPV results in multiple health sequelae and increased healthcare utilization,” she said.

A number of targeted interventions and treatments are available for women veterans who experience IPV, including evidence-based mental health services. Gerber believes the VA is well positioned to implement screening programs for WV to facilitate referral to needed services and treatments available both within and outside its facilities. “As the population of women veterans expands, future research will be needed to determine best practices; many avenues of inquiry exist. Women veterans are strong and resilient. It is crucial that those who work with them recognize evidence of IPV and refer to needed services and evidence based-treatment to enable strength-based recovery,” she added.

Study Shows Reducing Liver Protein SIRT1 Levels Plays a Role in Abnormal Metabolism Related to Fatty Liver and Obesity

January 22nd, 2014 in 2014, Health & Medicine, News Releases, School of Medicine 0 comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 21, 2014

Contact:  Jenny Eriksen Leary, 617-638-6841, jenny.eriksen@bmc.org

(Boston) – A new study led by Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) demonstrates that the abnormal metabolism linked to obesity could be regulated in part by the interaction of two metabolic regulators, called the NAD-dependent deacetylase SIRT1 and fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21). Using experimental models, the researchers found that a lack of SIRT1 protein in the liver led to lower levels of a liver secreted protein FGF21, which resulted in an increased likelihood of developing fatty liver disease and obesity.

 

When levels of FGF21 in the liver of experimental models were elevated, some of the white fat cells became some of brown fat cells, producing more heat and burned calories. White fat stores energy as large fat droplets, while brown fat has much smaller fat droplets and is specialized to burn them, yielding heat. In humans, there is evidence that more brown fat is associated with a lower body weight. Finding a way to turn white fat into brown fat could potentially lead to a decrease in obesity and other metabolic diseases.

 

This study, which is published in Gastroenterology, was led by Mengwei Zang, MD, PhD, and her team in the department of medicine at BUSM.

 

In previous experiments, Zang’s laboratory showed that elevated liver SIRT1 protein limited the development of fatty liver in experimental models when the diet was high in fat. However, the mechanism was not known. To determine how this happens, Zang laboratory used a unique mouse model that did not have liver SIRT1 protein, which resulted in an elevation in hepatic fat levels, an increase in body weight, and a decrease in nighttime oxygen consumption. It also led to decreased levels of liver FGF21, which were associated with abnormal fat metabolic changes in liver and adipose tissues.

 

However, when levels of liver and serum FGF21 were elevated, some white fat cells changed and became brown fat cells, which could increase whole-body oxygen consumption and produce more heat. These changes in the fat cells caused by elevated FGF21 protein could help explain how the experimental mice experienced more weight loss, had less fat mass and slowed the progression of fatty liver.

 

“Excess abdominal white fat in humans promotes heart disease, diabetes and other metabolic diseases, and it would be potentially therapeutic if we could transform white fat into brown fat by elevating FGF21 levels,” said Zang, the study’s corresponding author.

 

Funding for this study was provided in part by the National Institutes of Health Grants RO1 DK076942 and R21 AA021181, Robert Dawson Evans Faculty Merit Award, and Wing Tat Lee Award.

BUSM Study Finds Decreased Life Expectancy for Multiple Sclerosis Patients

January 22nd, 2014 in 2014, Health & Medicine, News Releases, School of Medicine 0 comments

For Immediate Release, January 21, 2014

Contact: Gina DiGravio, 617-638-8480, gina.digravio@bmc.org

(Boston) – The first large scale study in the U.S. on the mortality of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) has been published and provides new information about the life expectancy of people with the disease. The study appears in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.

 

David Kaufman, ScD, of the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University, is the lead author. The work is the result of a collaboration between the investigators at BU and their colleagues at University of California San Francisco, the University of Alabama, Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Care-Safe LLC, a consulting firm and the sponsor of the research, Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals.

 

MS is a chronic disease of the central nervous system which progresses into a degenerative phase in the majority of affected patients. There are 250,000-350,000 patients with MS in the United States, giving an overall prevalence of roughly one in 1,000.

 

The investigators used health insurance claims data to identify a series of patients with MS and a comparison group of individuals from the same health plans who did not have MS.  A total of 30,402 MS patients and 89,818 non-MS subjects who were in the OptumInsight Research (OIR) database from 1996-2009 were included in the study. Data on deaths was obtained from government databases of death records. Annual mortality rates were 899/100,000 in MS patients and 446/100,000 in comparators. The median lifespan was 6 years less among the MS patients than among the non-MS group.

“Our findings are consistent with what has been reported elsewhere in the world,” explained Kaufman. “While the results apply only to the commercially insured U.S. population, that group represents more than two-thirds of individuals under age 65, and this is the first time an MS survival disadvantage has been shown in this country.”

While early mortality due to MS is relatively rare, the new data confirm that compared to the general population, MS patients in the US do experience a decrease in life expectancy. Most of the information on survival patterns in MS has come from Europe, where populations, risk factors and medical practice may be different than in the U.S. With the large number of MS patients in the U.S., the lack of data represented a significant knowledge gap.  Future studies with longer follow-up periods can provide important information about how the introduction of anti-MS drugs in the 1990s has impacted survival in MS.

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Depressive Symptoms Linked to Adult-onset Asthma in African-American Women

January 22nd, 2014 in 2014, Health & Medicine, News Releases, School of Public Health 0 comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, January 21, 2014

Contact: Gina DiGravio, 617-638-8480, gina.digravio@bmc.org

 

 (Boston) – According to a new study from the Slone Epidemiology Center (SEC) at Boston University, African-American women who reported high levels of depressive symptoms had a greater likelihood of adult-onset asthma compared to women who reported fewer depressive symptoms.

The study, which currently appears online in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, was led by Patricia Coogan, DSc, senior epidemiologist at SEC and research professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health.

This study followed 31,848 African-American women between 1999 and 2011, all of whom are participants in the Black Women’s Health Study (BWHS) who completed health questionnaires every two years. In 1999 and 2005 they rated the frequency of experiencing 20 symptoms (e.g., “I felt depressed”, I felt lonely”, “I could not get going”). The 20 answers were summed into a scale ranging from zero (rarely or never experiencing depressive symptoms) to 60 (experiencing all depressive symptoms “most or all of the time”). The scale is commonly used in epidemiologic studies and a score of 16 has been used to identify individuals at high risk of depression.

 

The results indicated that as the frequency of depressive symptoms increased, the incidence of adult-onset asthma also rose, up to a two-fold increase in women in the highest category (score of ≥33) compared to the lowest category (score <16) of the depressive symptom scale. Furthermore, the incidence of asthma was increased 2.8 times in women who had a depressive symptom score of ≥16 and also reported use of antidepressants.
“Our results are consistent with positive findings from three previous studies of depressive symptoms and asthma incidence conducted in smaller and primarily white populations,” said Coogan. “The hypothesized mechanism linking depressive symptoms to asthma incidence is depression-related stress and its physiological consequences, particularly effects on the immune system and the airways.  Given the high prevalence of both asthma and of depression in women, the association is of public health importance,” Coogan added.

 

The BWHS is the largest follow-up study of the health of African American women in the United States. Led by researchers at the Slone Epidemiology Center, the BWHS has followed 59,000 African-American women through biennial questionnaires since 1995 and has led to a better understanding of numerous health conditions that disproportionately affect African-American women.

Funding for this study was provided by the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (grant award #HL107314) and the National Cancer Institute (grant award #CA058420).

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High Volume of Severe Sepsis Patients May Result in Better Outcomes

January 17th, 2014 in 2014, Health & Medicine, News Releases, School of Medicine 0 comments

For Immediate Release, Jan. 17, 2014

Contact: Jenny Eriksen Leary, jenny.eriksen@bmc.org, 617-638-6841

(Boston) – A recent study led by Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) shows that “practice may make perfect” when it comes to caring for patients with severe sepsis. The study showed that patients admitted to academic medical centers that care for more patients with severe sepsis have significantly lower mortality rates than patients cared for at academic medical centers with lower volumes of sepsis patients. Additionally, the superior outcomes at high volume centers were achieved at similar costs compared to the lower volume medical centers.

 

Published online in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the study was led by Allan J. Walkey, MD, MSc, assistant professor of medicine, BUSM, and attending physician, pulmonary, critical care and allergy medicine, Boston Medical Center.

 

Analyzing data from academic hospitals across the country, provided by the University HealthSystem Consortium, the researchers identified 56,997 patients with severe sepsis who were admitted to 124 academic hospitals in 2011. The median length of stay for patients was 12.5 days and the median direct cost for each patient was $26,304.

Their data indicate that hospitals caring for more sepsis patients had a seven percent lower mortality rate than hospitals with lower volumes. The high volume medical centers had a 22 percent mortality rate while the lower volume hospitals had a 29 percent mortality rate.

 

“Given the lack of new drugs to treat severe sepsis, medical professionals must look at other ways to increase patient safety and positive outcomes, including the process of how we deliver care,” said Walkey. “Our study results demonstrate that hospitals with more experience caring for patients with severe sepsis were able to achieve better outcomes than hospitals with less experience with sepsis, possibly due to better processes of care for patients with sepsis.”

 

Funding for this study was provided in part by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute under grand award number K01HL116768 and the National Cancer Institute under grant award number K07 CA138772.

Local researchers Awarded Grant from the DeGregorio Family Foundation for Gastric and Esophageal Cancer Research & Education

January 17th, 2014 in 2014, Health & Medicine, News Releases, School of Medicine 0 comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, January 17, 2014

Contact: Gina DiGravio, 617-638-8480, gina.digravio@bmc.org

(Boston) –Tony Godfrey, PhD, associate chair of research in the department of surgery at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Boston Medical Center (BMC), was recently awarded a two-year, $225,000 grant from the DeGregorio Family Foundation for Gastric and Esophageal Cancer Research & Education. Godfrey, who is also an associate professor of surgery at BUSM, will use the funding to study Barrett’s Esophagus (BE). People with BE are at increased risk for a type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

 

Esophageal adenocarcinoma is an aggressive tumor that is often diagnosed after it has already spread to other sites. Currently, the only way to detect esophageal adenocarcinoma is with an endoscopy, which is an invasive procedure that requires a hospital visit, sedation and a day off work.

 

The research team is developing a new approach for esophageal cancer detection that could be performed simply in a primary care physician’s office or even at home. The approach uses a sponge-containing capsule attached to a string. When swallowed, the sponge expands in the stomach and can then be pulled back through the esophagus and out of the mouth. Esophageal cells are rubbed off onto the sponge as it is pulled through the esophagus and can be examined to look for cancerous changes.

 

“Our project, clinically conducted in our Barrett’s Esophagus Program at Boston Medical Center, will attempt to find cancer cells using a sensitive method to detect mutations that are known to cause esophageal adenocarcinoma,” said Godfrey, who is also principal investigator of the study. “If successful, this project may lead to more wide-spread esophageal cancer screening, earlier detection of tumors and improved survival,” he added. “We are grateful for the funding provided by the DeGregorio Family Foundation which will allow us to perform vital experiments to determine if this approach is feasible.”

 

Lincoln Stein, MD, PhD, from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and Virginia Litle MD, director, Barrett’s Esophageal Program at BMC, are collaborating with Godfrey on this project.

 

The DeGregorio Family Foundation seeks to promote and facilitate education and collaborative research on the pathogenesis, early diagnostic and treatment of upper gastrointestinal malignancies. It was founded in 2006 after a tenth member of the DeGregorio family succumbed to stomach cancer and was found to have possessed a rare gene that causes the disease and other common cancers. Her surviving siblings, who both tested negative for the gene, created the Foundation to raise funds for research on the hereditary and non-hereditary varieties of stomach and esophageal cancer. Since its inception, the Foundation has made tremendous progress in providing the private support needed to learn more about these cancers, which has had an enormous global impact.

Founder Lynn DeGregorio looks forward towards the advancement in early detection and treatment of these diseases.

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BUSM Study Associates Pro-Inflammatory Molecules with Early Death in HIV Patients

January 17th, 2014 in 2014, Health & Medicine, News Releases, School of Medicine 0 comments

For Immediate Release, Jan. 16, 2014
Contact:
Jenny Eriksen Leary, 617-638-6841, jenny.eriksen@bmc.org

(Boston) – A study led by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) provides new insight into the impact that pro-inflammatory molecules have on early death in HIV patients who abuse alcohol. The findings, published in the journal AIDS, pinpoint the inflammatory markers most associated with early death and may help explain why some patients die earlier than others even when all of these patients are on antiretroviral therapy.

 

Daniel Fuster, MD, PhD, a researcher at the Clinical Addiction Research and Education (CARE) unit at BUSM, is the study’s lead author. Unique in its investigation of inflammatory markers in HIV and alcohol abuse, the study is the product of collaboration between Boston University School of Public Health, Boston Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

Although breakthroughs have been accomplished in HIV antiretroviral therapy, some patients fare better than others. Factors influencing these differences have been identified, including co-infection with hepatitis viruses (especially hepatitis C), substance abuse (alcohol, as well as other drugs), noncompliance with antiviral drugs, CD4+ cell count and HIV viral load. Additionally, researchers have previously identified pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines that have been associated with elevated HIV viral loads and more advanced HIV disease. Independently, alcohol abuse and chronic hepatitis C infection have also been associated with higher levels of inflammation in the bodies of HIV infected persons. However, it was previously unknown if the elevated inflammatory state in these patients was due to their HIV or other independent risk factors.

 

Investigators recruited 400 HIV positive subjects who were known to abuse alcohol chronically. Half of these subjects also had chronic hepatitis C. They were followed for a three- to five-year period during which clinical information and laboratory samples were collected. Levels of seven well-known pro-inflammatory cytokine molecules were measured at baseline. From the beginning of the study in 2001 until data gathering was concluded in 2009, all patients were tracked in a national database to verify their survival status.

Based on this analysis, the researchers found that at the end of the study period, 85 out of the original 400 patients had died. Although these patients represent a population already at high risk of mortality from many problems (smoking, drug abuse, homelessness, etc.), most deaths in the study period were a result of either HIV or hepatitis C. Adjusting for known risk factors, such as age, smoking and hepatitis status, the researchers found that an increased burden of inflammation was strongly associated with increased mortality in alcohol-abusing HIV patients. This association was found, regardless of whether or not patients were taking their antiretroviral drugs. One inflammatory molecule in particular, known as interleukin-6 (IL-6) was found to have the strongest association with mortality among patients in the study.

“Current antiretroviral drug regimens may be able to improve mortality in most patients, but are unable to decrease the potentially dangerous burden of a chronic inflammatory state in the body,” said Fuster. “Additional research should explore how to better manage chronic inflammation in these patients.”

 

This research was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (grant award numbers R01-AA13216 and K24-AA015674); the National Institute on Drug Abuse (grant award number R25DA13582), and the Spanish Ministries of Education (grant award number EDU/3495/2010), Science and Innovation (grant award numbers RD06/001/0021 and RD06/006/1014), and Health (grant award number EC11-042).

BOSTON UNIVERSITY TO OFFER JOINT MD-JD DEGREE BEGINNING IN FALL 2014- One of two universities in New England to offer distinctive program

January 17th, 2014 in 2014, Health & Medicine, News Releases, School of Law, School of Medicine 0 comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, January 16, 2014

Contact: Gina DiGravio, 617-638-8480, gina.digravio@bmc.org

(BOSTON)  – The complex interactions of medicine and law combined with changes in health policy and government regulation and mandates create a need for individuals trained in both disciplines. Career paths for graduates holding MD-JD degrees include health care administration, health law including legislation, medical policy (e.g. health disparities or medical licensing) and intellectual property issues related to medical research and technologies.

 

Beginning in fall 2014, Boston University will offer a six-year Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Doctor of Law (JD) degree through a joint program between two of its most prestigious professional schools – the Schools of Law and Medicine.  Yale is the only other university in New England to offer an MD-JD program.

 

“From the implementation of the Affordable Care Act to patenting innovations in biotechnology to managing the growing complexities of health care organizations, the legal and medical fields have become increasingly intertwined,” said BU School of Law Dean Maureen A. O’Rourke. “We want to prepare future leaders who can manage the rapid changes that are happening in these interdisciplinary fields.”

 

Students will earn both degrees in 6 years, one year less than if they pursued the two degrees independently. Students will complete the first three years of the medical school curriculum, then spend their fourth and fifth years fully integrated into the JD program at the School of Law. They fulfill their remaining medical and law course requirements in the sixth year of the program.

 

“By collaborating across the University with our outstanding law school colleagues, we have designed an outstanding comprehensive MD-JD programs to prepare students for leadership roles in hospital or health care systems, medical policy or academic administration.” said BU School of Medicine Dean and Medical Campus Provost Karen Antman, MD.

 

Students will apply to both schools for acceptance into the program. The first students will be accepted in spring of 2014. Matriculating students will be advised by faculty members from both Schools.