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A NEW JOB FOR A VETERAN DRUG

Most popularly known for its use in treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the drug methylphenidate (Ritalin) is now also being used by Sunnybrook brain scientists to decrease loss of interest and motivation in Alzheimer's patients.

Symptoms of apathy are some of the most common effects of Alzheimer's disease, worsening an individual's ability to carry out activities of daily living, and are often a key contributing factor to them being institutionalized.

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"This research, supported by the National Institute on Aging," says lead researcher Dr. Krista Lanctôt, "aims to understand and treat effects of the disease for those who are diagnosed with it, so that one may have Alzheimer's, and yet we can try to maximize quality of life for that individual for a longer period of time."

The participants in this study not only showed a significant reduction in their apathy symptoms, but they also demonstrated improvements in attention and thinking. Previous research by this group led to the current treatment study: Those with apathy had a lower feeling of reward and, with various testing, researchers were able to link the brain reward system with improvement in apathy during treatment. Methylphenidate stimulates the reward system.

"This treatment appears to be effective with few side effects," adds Dr. Nathan Herrmann, head of Geriatric Psychiatry at Sunnybrook. "While more research is needed, it appears promising."


BREATHING TECHNIQUE HELPS CANCER PATIENTS

Who knew that the simple idea of a long, deep breath could make a difference for some breast cancer patients? For women with left-sided breast cancer, this breathing technique can better protect the heart from radiation exposure by separating it from the chest wall or treatment area. That protection goes a long way in reducing heart problems down
the road.

"Patients with left-sided disease have increased risk, relative to patients with disease on the right, and we know cardiac complications can take up to 15 years to occur," explains Dr. Justin Lee, radiation oncologist at Sunnybrook's Odette Cancer Centre, who collaborates with medical physicist Dr. Claire McCann. "Shielding the heart during active treatment through this simple, but effective approach reduces women's risk of heart disease."

Active Breathing Control (ABC) is a technique that can significantly reduce heart volume exposure to radiation by as much as 58 per cent. Supported by radiation therapists and using special equipment, patients rehearse holding their breaths, each to a manageable threshold as controlled by the individual. Clinicians are now researching ABC together with SBRT (stereotactic body radiotherapy) a high-precision, high-dose radiotherapy to improve heart health for patients with left-sided, early-stage lung or
liver cancer.

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A PROSTATE CANCER KNOCKOUT

When you're fighting prostate cancer, it helps to think like a boxer. "If you're punching with a weak hand, you start provoking your opponent," says Dr. Andrew Loblaw, a radiation oncologist at Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Centre. "In the ring, if you don't finish them off, they'll keep coming back. Same with prostate cancer cells."

A few years ago, for most men, radiation treatment meant putting your life on hold, requiring patients to receive 39 radiation treatments in total, five times a week. That approach is history, with low-risk prostate cancer patients now needing only five radiation treatments in total, just once a week. Today, radiation treatment is given in higher doses and is more focused to target only the prostate cancer cells, not surrounding tissues. It's not only more effective, but also requires fewer patient visits.

"Prostate cancer's Achilles heel is that a high dose of radiation is more effective at killing the prostate cancer cells," says Dr. Loblaw. "By giving our patients a higher dose of radiation in fewer visits, the results are much better. Only 2 per cent of patients' cancer has returned at five years." This high-precision approach called SBRT is now the standard of care at Sunnybrook's Odette Cancer Centre, and the radiation treatment itself is quick; patients are in and out in roughly 20 minutes, with no hair loss, skin changes, vomiting or nausea. The vast majority of patients feel only mild or moderate temporary irritation to the bladder and/or bowel.


THE IMMUNE SYSTEM MAY IMPACT BONE FRACTURES

People may associate a healthy immune system with warding off colds and flus, but new research finds it can also help heal broken bones. Dr. Diane Nam, an orthopaedic surgeon and associate scientist in Biological Sciences and the Holland Musculoskeletal Research Program at the Sunnybrook Research Institute, along with her colleagues, studied how the musculoskeletal system and the immune system work together in mice. They found that the fractures of immune-compromised mice didn't heal as well as those of normal mice. Dr. Nam says these findings will hopefully lead to better fracture-healing techniques.


TINY WEAPON AGAINST HEARING LOSS

Tiny hair cells found inside the cochlea help you hear and maintain your balance. But can these small but vital hairs grow back after they have been lost by injury?

Dr. Vincent Lin, associate scientist in the Brain Sciences Research Program at Sunnybrook Research Institute,
led a recent study in which mice were given an antibiotic that resulted in hair loss and were followed to see if manipulating a particular cellular pathway known as the Delta-Notch pathway would cause new hair cells to regenerate. This process is known to take place in animals such as birds and amphibians that regenerate spontaneously.

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The study found that mature mammals can regenerate hair cells through simple manipulation of the Delta-Notch pathway, opening the door to potential new hearing-loss therapies. •


This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's advertising department, in consultation with Sunnybrook. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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