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November 2011 Archives


Traditional heart imaging methods may not always provide enough information for physicians to understand the cause of a patient’s symptoms or plan the best treatment. The new frontier in advanced imaging includes cardiac MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computed tomography), and PET (positron emission tomography), which open up a whole new level of information for every area of cardiovascular medicine.

Image: Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (2010)

Traditional imaging techniques work well most of the time. But sometimes the next level of imaging is needed to solve a puzzle, as in the case of a 42-year-old man who was having breathing problems and passing out repeatedly.

Demetris Yannopoulos, M.D., is part of an awareness effort focused on teaching more people how to respond when someone suffers sudden cardiac arrest. (Photo: Richard Anderson)

Demetris Yannopoulos, M.D., and a group of collaborators aim to improve survival rates after sudden cardiac arrest—when the heart unexpectedly stops beating—by at least 50 percent in five years through an innovative implementation and awareness effort called the HeartRescue Project. The goal? For every American who suffers sudden cardiac arrest to receive evidence-based, state-of-the-art care at the scene, en route to the hospital, and at the hospital.


For one special group of students, summer isn’t about waiting tables, babysitting, or hanging out at the mall. Instead, they’ll be working side by side with researchers from the Lillehei Heart Institute, learning about everything from stem cell therapies to career paths in cardiovascular medicine through the Summer Research Scholars Program.


The Minnesota Vikings and head coach Leslie Frazier have announced a gift of $200,000 for the Minnesota Vikings Adopt A Room at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital. The endowed gift from the Vikings will furnish a patient’s room with today’s groundbreaking technologies and comfortable amenities while securing a place for future pioneering medical advancements. The Vikings will also donate $240,000 from the Vikings Children’s Fund (VCF) to the University's Department of Pediatrics for promising research to treat and cure childhood diseases.


Advances is the quarterly publication of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

Lyn Steffen. Photo courtesy of Advances Magazine.

Minnesotans have a lower risk of heart disease than the general population according to recent findings from the Minnesota Heart Survey, a study of cardiovascular risk factors led by Lyn Steffen, associate professor of epidemiology. But why?

Lisa Harnack. Photo courtesy of Advances Magazine.

As days grow shorter and colder, Minnesotans are forced to deprive themselves of one natural source of vitamin D — the sun. Vitamin D is one of the few nutrients that people can pick up from sources other than food, says Lisa Harnack, director of the Nutrition Coordinating Center and a professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota. “Our body can synthesize [vitamin D] when our skin is exposed to sunlight,” she said. “And, of course, in Minnesota, in the winter months, we don’t have much sun exposure.”

Michael Osterholm. Photo courtesy of Advances Magazine.

There are critical gaps in our understanding of the effectiveness of licensed influenza vaccines in the United States, according to a comprehensive study led by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota. The study is published in the November edition of The Lancet Infectious Diseases, (published online Oct. 25, 2011.) Michael Osterholm and colleagues from CIDRAP, the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, and Johns Hopkins University screened 5,707 medical articles published between 1967 and 2011 for studies of randomized controlled trials and observational studies assessing the reduction in influenza risk after vaccination with licensed vaccines.

Tim Church. Photo courtesy of Advances Magazine.

Should any man of any age — absent symptoms — ever be screened for prostate cancer using the Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test? No, according to draft recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Amy Becker LaFrance with a young girl in Burkina Faso.

The police officer at the Ouagadougou International Airport visa counter was reviewing my application last February and asked in French, “Madame, what is your profession?” “Public health,” I replied. She cocked an eyebrow and said, “That is not a profession.” Her disdain was clear even though French is my second language. I tried again, saying I was the country director for a U.K.-based nongovernmental organization called Development Media International that is conducting a mass media-based child survival project in Burkina Faso. Finally, she let me enter the country. Even in my native English, this work can take some explaining.

Kathryn Nelson

She calls me the girl with the black heart. Black, like her skin, my Kenyan sister says. Black, like her. I came to Kenya as a naïve journalist believing that Africa, like so many of my colleagues had said, was solely full of suffering and hate. And, yes, I did see much pain. I was stationed at the Mt. Elgon refugee camp in Kenya in 2007 and I witnessed atrocities at the hands of greedy governments, selfish Westerners, and self-righteous religions. But out of this pain came possibilities.

Lucy Cosgrove, Marie Wilson, and Julia Shumway (left to right) with some residents of a shantytown called abatey. Photo courtesy of Advances.

They are bright, curious, and determined—in short, they have what the world needs in budding public health professionals. This summer for their required field experience, many second-year MPH candidates took these qualities far afield; others used them closer to home. Thirteen students jumped into a foreign culture. Although they prepared for that leap in their classes, they had to think creatively and improvise once on the ground. As Maternal and Child Health student Julia Shumway puts it, “we learned as we went along.”


Using state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology, University of Minnesota Medical School researchers may have uncovered a better approach to diagnosing epilepsy.


Since he and his colleagues identified the gene responsible for spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1) 18 years ago, Harry Orr, Ph.D., has not tired in his pursuit of a cure.

Orr's team, after cloning the SCA1 gene and developing animal models to understand how ataxia affects the body, is reaching another turning point in its work—developing several promising drug compounds that could one day be used to treat the disease.

And Orr has a new partner in this quest quite literally from the other side of the world.


Peripheral neuropathy, a painful nerve disorder that causes numbness in the hands and feet, often accompanies such diseases as cancer, AIDS, and diabetes. In fact, at least half of all people who have diabetes will eventually develop some form of neuropathy.

University of Minnesota neurologist William Kennedy, M.D., M.S., has been studying ways to diagnose and grade neuropathy for more than 40 years. Along the way, he has often been stymied when trying to assess whether a person's neuropathy was improving or deteriorating.


For neurologist Arthur Klassen, M.D., teaching is a lifelong passion.

Klassen believes that one of the critical places where young clinicians learn is far from campus. Attending a national conference such as the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology is not only a training program requirement, but it's also a key career move, he says.


Imagine if a simple blood test could identify a person's risk of developing a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia. Long before the patient had a psychotic episode, doctors would be able to intervene early and stave off the onset of disease.

Researchers at the University are doing more than simply imagining such an invaluable diagnostic tool.

Andrew Grande, M.D., and his lab team are investigating new ways to deliever stem cell therapies to the brain during surgery. (Photo: Richard Anderson

For a person who had been in an accident or suffered a stroke, crushed neurons or blood-deprived brain tissue meant uncertain recovery and the possibility that loss of function, like walking or speaking, would be permanent.

But the thinking about brain injury has begun to change, in particular with the latest advances in stem cell research. Today's stem cell technologies involve a wide range of naturally occurring and engineered cells, and they're altering the outlook on restoring the highly specialized brain and spinal cord.

In the Medical School's Department of Neurosurgery, a new group of researchers is focused on stem cells and how their astounding capabilities may be harnessed to help patients regain function.


University of Minnesota President Eric W. Kaler, Ph.D., gave this address at the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s Discovery Showcase on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

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