January - March 2013 Edition: Naples Health

Looking Ahead

What’s new and promising

Turning thoughts into actions T o move a limb, our brains send signals through the spinal cord to the muscles we want to move. When this com- munication pathway is disrupted by injury, stroke or dis- ease, paralysis can result. Now, researchers at Brown University, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School are working on a system that could bypass the spinal cord and restore movement.

Those with the variation respond well to other, more expensive blood thinners, but until now there hasn’t been an easy way to identify who needs which medication. A new bedside genetic testing device developed by Spartan Bioscience appears to solve that problem. In a recent, small trial, the device was able to quickly identify patients with the genetic variation. And the testing could be done at a patient’s bedside by clinical staff after only about 30 minutes of training. While it has yet to be shown that this rapid genotyping leads to better health outcomes in this case, the trial does hold promise for more individualized medical treatment, based on genetic testing.

Freezing secondary tumors A small, preliminary study suggests that freezing secondary

tumors can yield increased survival time and reduce

discomfort for stage 4 metastatic breast cancer patients. According to Dr. Peter Littrup, co-author of the study and director of radiology research at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, between 10,000 and 15,000 new cases of stage 4

The BrainGate system uses a tiny sensor with 96 hair-thin electrodes, implanted in the patient’s motor cortex and wire- lessly synced to an external device. Using the system, two stroke-paralyzed patients were able to control a robotic arm and complete tasks, simply by imagining they were doing so. The sensor turned their thoughts into digital commands that could be understood by the robotic arm. While the results are promising, researchers state that the ultimate goal is to use BrainGate to reconnect the brain with the paralyzed limbs. In the meantime, controlling the robotic arm allowed one patient to lift a water bottle and take a sip— the first time in 15 years she was able to do so simple a task without a caregiver’s help. Bedside genetic testing Patients who undergo angioplasty and receive a heart stent are typically prescribed a blood thinner to prevent platelets from building up within the device. Unfortunately, one of the most widely used and effective thinners doesn’t work in people who have a genetic variation—a variation that shows up in about 50 percent of those with Asian ancestry and 30 percent with European or African ancestry.

Freezing therapy can reduce discom- fort and disease ... and potentially lead to longer survival.

breast cancer occur in the United States each year. Stage 4 is considered incurable, and Littrup stressed that percutaneous cryoablation is not a complete cure. This freezing therapy is beneficial, he said, “because it can significantly reduce discomfort and incidence of disease … and it may potentially lead to longer survival.” In stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, tumors often spread to the liver, lungs, kidneys and bones. Surgery is frequently not an option. In percutaneous cryoablation, tiny probes insert pres- surized argon gas into the tumors, turning them into balls of ice and killing them. Dr. Littrup hopes that this initial study will lead to larger trials and more definitive findings.


Naples Health | JANUARY-MARCH 2013

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