May 2012 Archives

U of M professor awarded grants for children's brain research

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Dr. Bernadette Gillick was recently awarded a variety of grants to fund her upcoming study on the use of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation in Pediatric Hemiparesis, a form of non-invasive brain stimulation for children that can help combat damage to the brain's nerve endings caused by stroke. bernadette.jpg

Dr. Gillick joined the UMN faculty as a tenure-track assistant professor in October 2011. The New Faculty MMF Grant, CTSI Pre-K Grant and CTSI BDAC award recipient has spent the past three years working to improve current rehabilitation techniques.

"Our future studies will incorporate rehabilitation therapy techniques with the use of non-invasive brain stimulation," explains Gillick. "The overarching goal is to improve hand function for children who have hemiparesis, or weakness on one side of their body."

The new form of rehabilitation that Dr. Gillick will explore is an example of research at the University of Minnesota's Medical facilities.

Adoption medicine pioneer receives lifetime achievement award

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University of Minnesota Medical School Professor of Pediatrics Dana Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., has been recognized by the Joint Council on International Children's Services for his advocacy and pioneering efforts to help establish adoption medicine as a field of practice. He received the lifetime achievement award in New York City on April 12, 2012.

"In 1985 we adopted a little boy from India and, while becoming acquainted with the process, realized that not very much was known about the medical status of adoptees," Johnson said.

Twenty-seven years later Johnson is still working to help learn more about the situations and environments that lead to medical problems in internationally adopted children. This work, done in the hope of ensuring better health for adoptees, is known as adoption medicine.

Johnson has changed the lives of thousands of orphans worldwide. He co-founded the University's International Adoption Clinic and has co-authored papers on the effects of ongoing institutional care as compared to family care.

While U.S. orphanages largely disappeared in the 1970s, Johnson says that the vast majority of children adopted internationally come from institutional settings such as orphanages. As children are more likely to suffer from social, nutritional and medical deprivation in institutions than they are under parental care, international adoptees are more likely to experience development and growth delays, vision and hearing problems, and emotional and behavioral troubles. Exposure to infectious diseases such as hepatitis, syphilis, HIV and tuberculosis can also pose problems.

Thanks in large part to Johnson's pioneering efforts, adoption medicine has become an established area of specialization within pediatrics. Today it is common practice for U.S. adoptive parents to consult with an adoption medicine specialist before and after their child's adoption.

Johnson said the most rewarding part of his work in adoption medicine is "seeing children who have clearly started out life with strikes against them going to parents that have enormous potential to provide the best possible outcome. The joy comes from meeting with children with great needs and seeing them enter families who are willing to do so much."

Find a video from one of the adoptees Johnson helped here.

Sleepwalking: more common than you may have thought.

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You may not know it, but you may be one of every three Americans who will sleepwalk during their life.

University of Minnesota Medical School Professor of Neurology Mark Mahowald, M.D. and fellow researchers from across the nation found that 29% of adults will sleepwalk during their lifetime and 3 to 4% of us--or 8.4 million Americans--have sleepwalked in the past year. Mahowald and his colleagues' findings were published this week in the journal Neurology.

"It was formerly thought that sleepwalking was seen commonly in children but not in adults," says Mahowald. In reality however, sleepwalking is "very, very prevalent".

Sleepwalking's prevalence among the general population is much higher than many medical professionals and members of the community think.

Because parts of the brain can be awake while other parts are still asleep, the brain is capable of carrying out complicated behaviors (such as sleepwalking) while the conscious mind is still asleep.

While Mahowald and colleagues' study found that Americans already suffering from sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or insomnia, those taking sleeping pills and those suffering from depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) were more likely to sleepwalk than other groups, Mahowald emphasizes that anyone can sleepwalk.

"Initially, it was thought that it was related to psychiatric and psychological problems," he says. "People don't want to bring it up because they are afraid they will be told it's psychiatric. But, clearly, it's not related to psychiatric problems."

U of M researchers hope to raise breast cancer screening awareness via cell phone

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Technology has provided a host of ways to get information into the hands of an end user. Specifically, cell phones have opened up new doors for passing along information via text message or specialized alerts.

Now, U of M researchers from the School of Social Work, Masonic Cancer Center and Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women's Health will receive $675,000 over three years from the Susan G. Komen Foundation to develop new ways to use cell phones to promote breast cancer screening to Korean women.

Hee Yun Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Social Work and Masonic Cancer Center, will lead the project and Doug Yee, M.D., director of the Masonic Cancer Center, and Rahel Ghebre, M.D., assistant professor in both the Masonic Cancer Center and the Medical School's Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women's Health will act as co-investigators.

Congratulations to the researchers and we'll keep readers updated on the project as it moves forward.


How a multimedia producer breaks down the science behind landmark discoveries

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If you've ever watched an Academic Health Center video on our website or YouTube channel, you know that our multimedia producer Jack McTigue has a knack for boiling down complex science into videos that are easy to understand.

For example, he once used a cartoon character named "Sal" to describe how one U of M researcher is using salmonella to fight cancer cells. He's also used animation to help the "domino donation" transplant process come to life.

We thought it would be fun to pull back the curtain a bit and show how Jack gets his creative process started.

In the end, Jack needs to ensure he understands the science tackled by our researchers. That way, he can illustrate their work to the public in a way that they'll understand.

This is the whiteboard outside Jack's office as he started brainstorming ideas that would result in this, his latest video.

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Nursing program prepares students for changing industry

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The University of Minnesota's School of Nursing recently graduated several students from the state's only Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. This first batch of nursing professionals will now be more equipped to meet the growing demands that the healthcare industry demands of its professionals.

The unique DNP program pairs students with faculty members who are leaders in their fields and on the cutting edge of nursing research and practice. These nursing experts act as mentors for the students and guide them through the three-year program.

Once the students are accepted to the program they choose from 14 practice specialties to focus in. The interdisciplinary core curriculum is divided into four areas in order to maximize the students' knowledge within their chosen specialty and provide them with experience dealing with all of the situations they will encounter as a care-giver.

The U of M DNP program provides students with the core skills to create and lead new models of care delivery for communities locally, across the nation, and around the world.

Too find out more about the program or the specialty areas head to the DNP webpage.

U of M Raptor Center comes to the aid of a baby bald eagle

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Have you ever seen a Bald Eagle up close?

If you have, how about a three-week old baby Bald Eagle. Those are quite a sight to behold and Kare 11 has video of one special baby Bald Eagle that was recently treated by the University of Minnesota Raptor Center. (Here's a teaser: around the 35 second mark you get a look at the little fella! And if you want even more, here's a link to Minnesota Bound's live webcam of the nest in which he lives.)

The eaglet, named Harmon, was taken down from his nest Friday after one of his wings got stuck in a corner. According to Julia Ponder, C.V.M., executive director of Raptor Center, the wing was so badly wounded that it had become infected and infected with maggots. If the Raptor Center staff hadn't intervened, the little guy could have died.

But now, hopefully that result is far less likely. Watch Harmon's story here, via Kare 11.

Identifying oral cancer: What can I do from the dentist's chair?

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Despite the fact oral cancer is diagnosed in 30,000 Americans each year - and less than 60 percent of those diagnosed will survive - many people lack any real familiarity with the condition.

To combat these trends, Nelson Rhodus, D.M.D., M.P.H., from the Department of Diagnostic and Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota's School of Dentistry, wants to put a bright spotlight squarely on oral cancer's risk factors.

"Oral cancer is one of the most curable diseases when caught early, but most people don't know the warning signs," said Rhodus. "When early-stage oral cancer is found, treatment is simple, less invasive and more than 90 percent successful. The problem is most people don't know what to ask their dentist."

What are some early warning signs of oral cancer?

Find the full story here.

U of M Expert Perspective: More data needed on brachytherapy for breast cancer

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Many cancer patients are familiar with brachytherapy. The approach delivers a small, targeted dose of radiation to a cancer site via irradiated seeds or pellets, and has been used for nearly 20 years with good results for patients battling prostate cancer.

But now, more and more women are turning to the procedure to treat their breast cancer. And according to new research from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, women may want to get all the facts before selecting the path that's right for them.

According to the new research, there was no difference in survival rates after breast cancer in women who chose brachytherapy or whole breast irradiation, but women who chose brachytherapy were more likely to undergo a mastectomy within five years of their initial cancer treatment.

The researchers point out, however, that the increase is slight: they estimate that for every 56 women treated with breast brachytherapy, 1 woman was harmed with unnecessary mastectomy.

According to University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center cancer surgeon Todd Tuttle, M.D., the research shouldn't necessarily scare women away from brachytherapy, but he stressed that more data may be needed to get the complete picture on the procedure as it relates to breast cancer.

"Although it's very attractive at first because you are potentially treating a lot less of the breast and you're doing it in a much shorter period of time, the benefits may not be there. In fact you may see more patients having long-term complications," he said. "Many surgeons are starting to think twice about this kind of therapy for a lot of women."

Tuttle notes that the medical community needs more data on the therapy before it should be considered alongside other types of therapy. Tuttle advises women to talk to their doctor before selecting the treatment approach that is right for them.

Read the full story from Reuters Health.