Dementia

Lab Notes – Summer 2018

Gout Drug Increases Risk of Death in Some

A study of gout patients taking one of two medications used to prevent excess buildup of uric acid has linked the drug febuxostat to an increased risk of death for users with heart disease when compared to the medication allopurinol. In contrast, the study found no difference between the two medications when considering the risk of nonfatal coronary events, including hospitalizations for heart failure, arrhythmias, pulmonary embolism, myocardial infarction, or stroke. The findings of the trial (commonly referred to as the CARES trial), led by UConn School of Medicine’s Dr. William B. White, were released at the American College of Cardiology’s 67th Annual Scientific Session and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Previously, no cardiovascular clinical trial has ever demonstrated an increased risk of cardiovascular death without also showing a heightened risk of other cardiovascular outcomes.


Prostate Medication Ups Dementia Threat

Tamsulosin

Tamsulosin, a medication prescribed to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), may increase the risk of dementia in men ages 65 or older, a recent UConn study published in Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety found. The risk of developing dementia increased by as much as 17 percent when compared to similar patients who were not taking any medication to treat BPH. According to Dr. Helen Wu of the Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translational Science and UConn Health, tamsulosin may also quicken the decline of those with early memory loss.


New Compound Stimulates Immune Response Against Cancer

A new synthetic compound created by a team of top immunologists, molecular biologists, and chemists has proven to be highly effective in activating human invariant natural killer T cells (iNKT). The compound called AH10-7 also causes the cells to release a specific set of proteins that stimulate anti-tumor immunity. One of the limitations of earlier compounds was their tendency to cause iNKT cells to release a rush of different cytokines with conflicting immune responses. The study, led by UConn chemistry professor Amy Howell, Ph.D., was published in Cell Chemical Biology. The findings could lead to more effective cancer treatments and vaccines.


Type of Dwarfism Linked to Infertility

human egg and sperm

UConn Health cell biologists Laurinda Jaffe and Leia Shuhaibar were studying fertility when they noticed unusually long bones in their mice. Upon further examination, they discovered that a mutated gene for the NPR2 enzyme, which controls how eggs mature in the ovaries, blocks an enzyme called the fibroblast growth factor receptor, resulting in abnormally long bones. In contrast, the fibroblast growth factor receptor is always “on” in individuals diagnosed with achondroplastic dwarfism, causing decreased bone growth and shortened limbs. The study, funded in part by the NIH and published in eLife, may lead to new drug therapies to treat achondroplasia.

Exercise Can Improve Alzheimer’s Symptoms

A new UConn analysis of years of previous research suggests there is ample evidence that exercise may delay the decline in cognitive function associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Aerobic exercise has possibly the most favorable effect, according to the study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Led by Gregory Panza, a UConn kinesiology graduate student, this is the first analysis of a group of studies on a particular type of dementia — Alzheimer’s.

The authors examined data from 19 studies with 23 interventions that encompassed 1,125 participants who were at risk of Alzheimer’s. The studies were all conducted prior to August 2017 and published in peer-reviewed journals.

The studies led to the overall conclusion that moderate-intensity exercise training about three days a week for 45 minutes resulted in modestly better cognitive function for participants. The findings reinforce the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, which recommend exercise as a cost-effective lifestyle therapeutic option to improve brain health in older adults.

Follow-Up – Fall 2017

Research doesn’t stop when we report it. Here are updates on past UConn Health Journal stories:


UConn Center on Aging

The UConn Center on Aging is one of 14 planned study sites for the TAME (Targeting Aging with Metformin) clinical trial led by Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Dr. Nir Barzilai and colleagues from Wake Forest School of Medicine. The researchers hope to test the ability of diabetes drug metformin to slow development of aging-related conditions such as cancer, dementia, and cardiovascular diseases.

the Flu

Spring 2017, “Aches, Age, and Influenza”


Childhood Anxiety Research

Anxiety in children may need to be treated as a chronic condition that requires regular follow-up, reported UConn Health psychologist Golda Ginsburg at this year’s Anxiety and Depression Association of America conference. The results are from a study that followed 488 children and adolescents with anxiety who were randomly assigned to get cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), an antidepressant, CBT and an antidepressant, or a placebo. Remission rates five years after treatment were the same, no matter the treatment.

Russian nesting dolls illustrating the pattern of anxiety

Winter 2015, “Breaking the Cycle: How Anxious Parents Can Protect Their Kids from Becoming Anxious Adults

The Power of MRI

A UConn Health physician is seen reviewing an MRI brain scan.

A UConn Health physician is seen reviewing an MRI brain scan. At UConn Health, doctors are pioneering ways to use MRI technology to diagnose and monitor a range of conditions affecting many parts of the body Photo: Peter Morenus


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has come a long way since the technique was first used in the U.S. in the late 1970s. UConn Health is now taking this powerful, non-invasive imaging tool to the next level.

UConn Health physicians in a variety of specialties are using the technology — which captures images of the inside of the body using a large magnet rather than radiation — in new ways to detect and monitor illnesses.

Prostate Cancer

Dr. Peter Albertsen, chief of UConn Health’s Division of Urology, currently follows 100 patients with localized prostate cancer, which is slow-growing, using advanced multiple-parametric MRI imaging. The technology has now replaced ultrasound as the imaging method of choice for prostate cancer. The technique yields multiple imaging sequences of the prostate, providing information about the anatomy, cellular density measurement, and vascular supply.

There is growing evidence to support the idea that the best treatment plan for low-grade prostate cancer is “watchful waiting” to monitor its progression, instead of immediate surgery or radiation. Albertsen’s practice of active surveillance, and not intervention, for localized prostate cancer was reinforced by a recent long-term study published in September in the New England Journal of Medicine, on which Albertsen served as a consultant.

The technology is extraordinarily helpful, allowing us to avoid invasive biopsy testing and associated risks of bleeding and infection.

Liver Disease

UConn Health is the first in Greater Hartford to use MRI to measure the stiffness of patients’ livers to reveal disease without the need for biopsy. Its MR elastography technique involves placing a paddle on a patient’s skin over the liver during MRI to create vibrations and measure the velocity of the radio waves penetrating the organ. This can indicate a stiffer liver and help diagnose fibrosis, cirrhosis, a fatty liver, or inflammation associated with hepatitis. The initiative is led by Dr. Marco Molina, radiologist in the Department of Diagnostic Imaging and Therapeutics.

“The technology is extraordinarily helpful, allowing us to avoid invasive biopsy testing and associated risks of bleeding and infection,” Molina says. “Plus, with the obesity epidemic, patients developing nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), or fatty liver, can receive earlier diagnosis and take action to reverse their disease’s progression with diet and exercise.”

Breast Cancer

The new Women’s Center at UConn Health has opened its state-of-the-art Beekley Imaging Center, featuring advanced breast cancer screening. Dr. Alex Merkulov, associate professor of radiology and section head of women’s imaging, and his team are conducting research to test the effectiveness of using an abbreviated, five-minute MRI scan to confirm or rule out a breast cancer diagnosis. Typically, an MRI test takes 20 minutes, but researchers are seeing that a briefer MRI scan of just a few minutes can help provide a definitive answer to whether an abnormal breast growth is cancer or not — and potentially help women avoid the biopsy process.

Arthritis

The UConn Musculoskeletal Institute is now researching the use of MRI to assess and map the strength, weakness, and underlying makeup of a patient’s cartilage, especially for those with arthritis. The tool can allow orthopedic experts to identify any thinning or loss of cartilage in the body, which signifies moderate to late-stage disease. In early stages of arthritis, MRI can help pinpoint early morphological and subtle biochemical changes in cartilage.

Neurological Disorders

In neuroradiology, UConn Health is using the power of MRI to differentiate brain tumors, to detect strokes, to assess dementia, to diagnose multiple sclerosis, to evaluate traumatic brain injury, to find the source of epilepsy, and to guide brain surgery. In March 2017, leading neuroradiologist Dr. Leo Wolansky joins UConn Health to advance its research and chair the Department of Diagnostic Imaging and Therapeutics. Wolansky’s neuroimaging research has focused on enhancing understanding of MRI and its contrast agents, especially for multiple sclerosis and brain tumors. He also specializes in the hybrid imaging modality PET-MRI.

“Thanks to the power and advancement of MRI, doctors can see early evidence of disease and seize the opportunity to intervene and improve their patients’ health,” Molina says.