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Research Briefs

A mast-er regulator
Mast cells—the cells responsible for making allergy sufferers miserable—have important, beneficial roles to play in tissue transplants, DMS immunologists recently reported in Nature. Lead researcher Randolph Noelle, Ph.D., and his team found that mast cells regulate specific T-cells that are "essential to establish and sustain self-tolerance" of a transplant. "Even though recent studies have underscored the plasticity of mast cells in regulating acquired immune responses," Noelle and colleagues wrote, the finding "that mast cells may be instrumental in orchestrating TReg-cell-mediated peripheral tolerance is unprecedented."

Talk therapy
Just three phone calls a year from a nurse-educator can significantly improve emotional and physical functioning in patients with chronic pain and psychosocial problems. That was the primary finding of a controlled trial by researchers in DMS's psychiatry department. The nurseeducators assessed patients' pain, psychosocial problems, and treatment preferences; reviewed self-management strategies with them; provided problem-solving approaches; and gave rapid feedback to the patients' primary-care physicians. The paper was published in Annals of Family Medicine.

Fat chance
One could say that breast cancer cells are addicted to fat—or, rather, to a protein called S14 that allows the cells to manufacture their own fat. "This makes sense, as fat is a crucial fuel for breast cancers," explains William Kinlaw, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Dartmouth. He recently published three papers revealing potential for S14 as a new anticancer target. "We're now working to examine this idea rigorously in cancer-prone mice engineered to lack S14 in the mammary gland," adds Kinlaw, "and to find areas on the S14 protein that might be suitable for attack with a drug."

Brain teaser
Exposure to nonylphenol—a prevalent environmental pollutant derived from herbicides, pesticides, polystyrene plastics, and paints—may harm a developing brain, a team of Dartmouth researchers recently reported. "Our results suggest that this environmental estrogen, if present at elevated levels, . . . may have deleterious effects on neuronal differentiation," wrote Leslie Henderson, Ph.D., et al. in the journal Endocrinology. "Because nonylphenol bioaccumulates, our results may be broadly applicable to a wide range of . . . terrestrial species that are higher in the food chain," not just the aquatic organisms they studied.

Seek and ye shall find
DMS researchers have shown once again that when it comes to cancer, the harder you look, the more you find. "The incidence of thyroid cancer in the United States more than doubled over the past 30 years," wrote Louise Davies, M.D., and H. Gilbert Welch, M.D., M.P.H., in the Journal of the American Medical Association. But most of the cancers were two centimeters or smaller, and "mortality [from thyroid cancer] remained stable during this period," suggesting "that increased diagnostic scrutiny has caused [the] apparent increase."

Etude in D minor
Watchful waiting, though a time-honored practice for many conditions, may not be the best choice for patients with minor depression who seek help. Only 9% to 13% of patients improved after a month of watchful waiting in a small study conducted by Dartmouth psychiatrists and psychologists. The findings also suggest that encouraging "regular engagement in active pleasant events" and discouraging "avoidant coping styles" may be beneficial interventions. "Developing evidence-based self-help materials along with aggressive dissemination measures could have a significant impact," they concluded in their paper, published in General Hospital Psychiatry.

Patient compliance is vital in clinical trials. Of 23 sites in the National Lung Screening Trial, which is comparing x-rays with spiral CT scans, DHMC has one of the highest compliance rates.

The Association of American Medical Colleges reported that DMS's Department of Microbiology and Immunology ranks 6th out of 126 medical schools in research income per faculty member.

A paper in the electronic edition of the journal Science by DMS geneticist Jay Dunlap, Ph.D., and colleagues has suggested the cellular clock has an anticancer as well as a time-keeping role.

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