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Research Briefs

The truth about consequences
In a recent study of women with breast cancer, DMS researchers identified a puzzling consequence of invasive forms of the disease. There have been concerns for some time that powerful chemotherapy treatments can cause a decline in mental capacity. The DMS team wondered if maybe the cancer itself might affect cognitive performance before treatment even began. They showed in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment that this was, indeed, the case for some women with invasive breast cancer. Women with noninvasive cancer, however, did not suffer any pretreatment cognitive decline.

Web and the M.D.
Many doctors make less use than their patients do of web-based medical information. DMS researchers carried out a study of internet use by primary-care providers in Vermont and New Hampshire. "Studies suggest," they wrote in Family Medicine, "that while patients want recommendations of online health resources fromtheir providers, few receive them." The researchers found that supplying providers with computers, high-speed internet access, and training did increase their use of web-based resources—but the doctors still remained loyal to other, less up-to-date sources of information.

Pain in the brain
Glial cells are often overshadowed by neurons, theirmore famous neighbors in the nervous system, but they may be essential to an understanding of chronic pain. A group of DMS researchers reported in the journal Brain Research that two types of glial cells—microglia and astrocytes—play an important role in the onset and maintenance of long-term pain in rats. Chronic pain can be sparked by major surgery or cancer, among other causes, and current treatments are often ineffective or have serious side effects. The DMS team wrote that their work "may help in developing innovative strategies to treat chronic pain conditions."

Does change have the upper hand?
Not all change is for the better, concluded a study by DMS orthopaedist Kenneth Koval, M.D. He reported in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery that between 1999 and 2007, many early-career surgeons began using a different technique to treat broken wrists—without producing better outcomes. The shift from percutaneous fixation (in which the bone is aligned using pins inserted through the skin) to open treatment (an invasive procedure using screws or plates to set the bone) may, he said, reflect pressure "to offer new techniques to a medical market that is constantly searching for the latest in technological advancement."

Thinking about drinking
Between 1982 and 1988, the U.S. military set a drinking age of 21 on all U.S. bases and instituted programs to prevent alcohol abuse. According to members of the DMS Department of Psychiatry, those efforts resulted in some dramatic changes. In a paper in Military Medicine, the team showed that from 1992 to 2003, alcohol treatment rates dropped by 60% for young male veterans, compared with about a 25% drop for the general male population during that period. The findings, they argue, support earlier work "suggesting that adolescent alcohol use, even in late adolescence,may contribute to later problem drinking."

Playing defense
The immune systemis the body's best defense against the spread of cancer, but the system's dendritic cells actually play a role in sustaining tumor growth. Members of the microbiology and immunology department reported in Cancer Research that targeting certain dendritic cells led tomore effective treatment of ovarian cancer in mice. They found that depleting the number of dendritic cells made it harder for the cancer to spread and, surprisingly, strengthened the immune response. Used with standard chemotherapy, this technique "significantly delayed cancer progression."

DMS was recently awarded multiyear grants to study colon cancer prevention ( $19 million), lung biology ( $10.5 million), and the effects of exposure to toxic metals ( $14.5 million).

A team led by Michael Whitfield, Ph.D., has discovered distinct genetic profiles for different types of scleroderma, an autoimmune disorder that affects the connective tissues in the body.

DMS interventional radiologists found that in treating an aortic aneurysm from a blunt trauma injury, endovascular repair—done from inside the blood vessel—is better than surgery.

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