UNM researcher joins consortium for vascular dementia

According to a UNM Health Sciences Center press release, a UNM neurologist has joined a new national consortium to study small blood vessel disease in the brain to assess its role in contributing to cognitive impairment and dementia.

Gary Rosenberg, director of the UNM Memory and Aging Center, is studying telltale biomarkers in magnetic resonance imaging and cerebrospinal fluid for evidence of injury to white matter, the tissue that surrounds neurons in the brain and helps transmit signals.

Rosenberg’s team is one of seven research groups working to develop biomarkers for small vessel involvement in vascular cognitive impairment and dementia (VCID), according to the release. Rosenberg recently received a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a branch of the National Institute of Health.

According to the release, there is an urgent need to study small vessel disease, which limits the blood supply to the brain, possibly damaging white matter and impairing the function of nearby neurons.

VCID can cause dementia symptoms on its own, according to the release, and it may also worsen symptoms for a substantial number of Alzheimer’s patients.

“It’s unique and exciting that we’re in on the ground floor. This will set the stage for the next 10 years in vascular dementia treatment,” Rosenberg was quoted as saying in the release.

Members of the MarkVCID consortium held a kickoff meeting in Houston in late February prior to the International Stroke Conference 2017, according to the release. The consortium includes researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, Johns Hopkins University and Rush University Medical Center, among others.

According to the release, VCID can potentially be treated if caught early enough, making it important to develop tests to diagnose the condition before symptoms worsen.

It is the hope that with multiple teams working to validate and standardize the diagnostic tests a new era of treatment may lie on the horizon, the release states.

UNM’s new Memory and Aging Center is uniquely equipped to conduct this research, with lab space, a clinical research area where patients can be seen and access to the advanced neuroimaging methods and image processing capabilities.

UNM Hospital pursuing mobile unit for the treatment of stroke patients

According to a UNM HSC release, minutes matter in treating stroke patients. Even 15 minutes can mean the difference between returning to one’s everyday job and activities or being confined permanently to a nursing home.

Over the past two years, hospitals nationwide have begun to sponsor “Mobile Stroke Units” — ambulances customized with a portable CAT(Computed Axial Tomography) scanner and medical team trained in providing stroke care.

The goal is to cut down the treatment time needed to provide care and UNMH is no different in their aim, according to the release.

“A stroke is one of the few diseases that is very time sensitive,” Atif Zafar, stroke neurologist at the Department of Neurology, was quoted as saying in the release. “Once the ambulance crew puts the patient on a stretcher, they do not move from it. They are taken to the ambulance for a CAT-scan and treatment. Even within the city, it can take double that amount of time to come to an Emergency Department and be transferred into system.”

According to the release, patients can start to receive treatment in the ambulance even before arriving at the hospital.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control lists stroke as the fifth-leading cause of death for Americans, estimating that they cost the U.S. an estimated $33 million each year in healthcare costs, medications and missed work days, according to the release.

According to the release, research has shown that the stroke ambulance can improve response time and provide better patient outcomes. But the units are expensive with an initial investment needed of about $1 million to $2 million for each ambulance.

UNM Cancer Center joins national screening effort of colorectal cancer

According to an UNM HSC press release, the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center is collaborating with the National Cancer Institute and about 48 other sites to increase the screening of colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is among the few cancers from over 100 known types for which screening is proven to reduce the risk of death, according to the release. According to the American Cancer Society, around 800 New Mexicans are expected to receive a diagnosis of colon or rectal cancer and 340 are likely to die from the disease this year.

According to the release, it is among the most preventable cancers, and the NCI’s Screen to Save initiative — which promotes colorectal cancer screening — is part of the Cancer Center’s outreach activities.

The effort focuses on people aged 50 to 75 who live in racially and ethnically diverse rural communities, according to the release. It plans to reach about 100 Hispanics in New Mexico through educational events.

The release states that people at average risk for colorectal cancer should start screening at age 50 while those with a higher risk should start screening at younger ages.

“If you have a relative with colorectal cancer your doctor will help you to know when you should have your first screening and the type of test that is recommended,” Anita Kinney, project director at the Cancer Center is quoted as saying in the release.

Hispanic populations in New Mexico and the rest of the United States have lower colorectal cancer screening rates, according to the release.

“They are diagnosed in later stages and have worse cancer outcomes. The cause of this inequity is due to a combination of socio-economic, socio-cultural and system-level barriers,” Laura Nervi, educator at the National Outreach Network/Community Health at the Cancer Center, was quoted as saying in the release. “Screening can save lives and remove these polyps before they become cancer. Screening also can detect colorectal cancer at (an) early state, (when) the survival rate is over 90 percent.”

Matthew Reisen is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @MReisen88.