TIME IS BRAIN
A stopwatch can save a brain. At least that's the hope. When a stroke stops blood from getting to the brain, millions of brain cells die by the minute. Every second counts, so clot-busting drugs need to be administered as soon as possible.
A new study is testing the effectiveness of using a large red LED stopwatch clock in getting patients treated faster. This stopwatch, attached to the patient's stretcher from the moment of arrival in the emergency room, serves as a constant visual reminder of the urgency of the situation. Seems simple, but if it proves effective, its use will become the standard of care and will be expanded to other stroke centres across Ontario and around the world.
THE ULTRASOUND HELMET
Sometimes there are few options when a brain tumour is in a place where it can't be reached with a scalpel. But we think we have an answer - using focused ultrasound to zap tumours. Not as easy as it sounds. Because the skull is so hard and thick, it sends ultrasound waves bouncing off in all directions. The solution: a high-tech helmet.
Our scientists are building a new helmet to counteract that effect and hone in waves of ultrasound through the skull directly onto tumours and other diseases in the brain. Testing is in very early stages, but if it works the way we expect it to, people who had little hope will one day have a new, potentially life-saving option for treatment.
SPOTTING DEMENTIA FROM AFAR
They might seem like fun mind games, but two tests, administered by professionals, have been found to predict the onset of dementia up to 10 years before it's diagnosed. One test involves remembering a list of random words after a short delay between when the words are heard and when they're repeated back. The other involves matching symbols with numbers.
The ability to predict dementia is important because it allows identification of people who could benefit from clinical trials or other treatments as they become available. It'll also help us understand the long-term effects of dementia and its progression in the brain, ultimately assisting in the design of future treatments.
A NEW WEAPON AGAINST DIABETES?
Diabetes is a complicated disease that causes a number of problems for sufferers. One of the most dangerous, aside from the disease itself, is chronic wounds, mostly on the feet. In severe cases, this problem can result in amputation.
A Sunnybrook research team has invented a compound, vasculotide, which imitates protein and stimulates new blood vessel growth. So far very early studies have shown that it speeds the healing and closing of wounds - and keeps them closed. Vasculotide holds potential hope not only for diabetics, but has implications for treatments in cancer, acute lung disease and hardening of the arteries.
KILLING CANCER AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT
Imagine if light could kill cancer in bone. That's what our researchers are investigating using light-sensitive drugs. It's called photodynamic therapy, where a light-sensitive drug accumulates in a tumour, then light is applied to the cancer through a laser inside a needle. This causes a form of oxygen to be produced that destroys the cancer cells and shrinks the tumour. Amazingly, this therapy was also found to strengthen the bone around the tumour. A clinical trial testing this therapy in tumours in the spine is underway.
HOW MUCH EXERCISE IS THE RIGHT AMOUNT?
In our last issue, we told you that physical activity in adolescent girls has lifelong brain benefits. Another Sunnybrook study says that we shouldn't over do it, though. Overly strenuous activity in women throughout life is related to poorer performance on tests that predict dementias.
The link is thought to be related to levels of estrogen, which are reduced by strenuous exercise, like marathon running. The study suggests that further investigation of the effects of intense physical activity on brain function is needed to figure out the optimal exercise regimens.
MS: IT'S NO TIME TO TOKE
New Sunnybrook research shows that using dope is dopey for multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. It causes even poorer performance in brain skills already affected by the disease. The study of 25 users of street cannabis and 25 non-users, all with MS, found that the drug significantly worsens attention span, speed of thinking and processing information, working memory and other cognitive skills.
"What this tells us is that MS patients need to be made aware of these effects and weigh whatever benefits with the very real cognitive side effects" says Dr. Anthony Feinstein, lead investigator of the study and neuropsychiatrist at Sunnybrook. The study was funded by the MS Society of Canada.
WHAT'S IN BREAST CANCER'S DNA?
Using a next-generation genome sequencer, Sunnybrook scientist Dr. Arun Seth is studying the pathology of triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease for which there is no effective treatment. Called the SOLiD 4, this machine will be used to find genetic mutations in breast cancer cell genomes.
The SOLiD 4 will allow Dr. Seth and his team to map and compare data from dozens of patient biopsies. Once the genomics of this deadly disease are understood, new therapy strategies and personalized treatments can be developed, giving new hope to women affected by it.