Veterans Administration Research News Brief
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Large genome study leads to better understanding of high blood pressure

Large genome study leads to better understanding of high blood pressure - Photo by Jeff BowenPhoto by Jeff Bowen

(12/04/2018) 
A large international genetic study that included several VA researchers has identified more than 500 new gene locations that affect blood pressure. The project is the largest genetic study of blood pressure to date, involving more than 1 million participants. It included data from VA’s Million Veteran Program. By comparing participants’ genetic data, researchers identified 535 new locations on the human genome that influence blood pressure. The researchers calculate that the new findings increase the knowledge of inheritable blood pressure traits by 27 percent. They call the findings “an important step forward” in understanding how genes affect blood pressure. (Nature Genetics, October 2018)

Program improved headaches-tbi staff interactions with residents

Program improved headaches-tbi staff interactions with residents - Photo for illustrative purposes only. ©iStock/monkeybusinessimagesPhoto for illustrative purposes only. ©iStock/monkeybusinessimages

(12/04/2018) 
A training program improved interactions between staff and VA community living center residents, in a study by researchers at several VA facilities. The intervention centered on observations, huddles, and a focus on the positive. Researchers surveyed 62 residents and 308 staff members after the staff behavioral change program. Results showed increased communication and decreased negative staff intervention with residents after the training. Staff members credited the program with helping them to understand the importance of engagement and improving the quality of their interactions with residents. (Gerontologist, July 13, 2018)

White matter damage could explain chronic headaches after TBI

White matter damage could explain chronic headaches after TBI - Photo: ©iStock/wenhtPhoto: ©iStock/wenht

(12/04/2018) 
Researchers with the VA San Diego Healthcare System have identified white matter abnormalities in the brains of patients with mild traumatic brain injury that may help explain their chronic headaches. The study used brain imaging data from 12 patients with TBI and chronic headache, compared with healthy controls. The TBI patients had abnormalities of the white matter in two brain tracts: the left superior longitudinal fasciculus, and the right anterior thalamic radiation. These tracts link different parts of the brain. This disruption of communication within the brain could be partly responsible for chronic headaches often experienced by patients with TBI, say the researchers. (Molecular Pain, Oct. 16, 2018)

Mouse study: Aspirin may slow multiple sclerosis

Mouse study: Aspirin may slow multiple sclerosis - Photo by Jerry DaliegePhoto by Jerry Daliege

(11/29/2018) 
Low-dose aspirin could suppress multiple sclerosis symptoms and slow the disease, according to a mouse study by Jesse Brown VA Medical Center researchers. Mice with a condition similar to MS were given small doses of aspirin orally. Mice given aspirin show reduced symptoms for both relapsing-remitting and chronic forms of the disease. The aspirin also seems to have prevented destruction to the myelin sheath in the spinal cord caused by destructive T-cells. The researchers found that aspirin reversed the depletion of regulatory T-cells that occurs in MS, which may have helped stop other T-cells from attacking nerve fibers. While more study is needed, the results suggest that low-dose aspirin regimens could help patients with MS, say the researchers. (Science Signaling, Nov. 27, 2018)

Rural, urban ICUs perform similarly in VA system

Rural, urban ICUs perform similarly in VA system  - Photo: ©iStock/PeopleImagesPhoto: ©iStock/PeopleImages

(11/29/2018) 
Rural intensive care units (ICUs) in VA facilities perform similarly to their urban counterparts, found an Iowa City VA Health Care System study. Researchers looked at data on nearly 10,000 rural patients and almost 66,000 urban patients. They found that patients treated at rural ICUs had similar mortality rates, despite rural locations having lower-complexity facilities. Rural patients were less likely to have respiratory illnesses and more likely to have sepsis than urban patients, and they had higher illness severity scores. Rural patients also had fewer inter-hospital transfers and shorter ICU length of stay. The results indicate that being part of a national health care system may have benefits for rural facilities that should be explored outside the VA system, according to the researchers. (Journal of Critical Care, Oct. 19, 2018)

Study explains gene mutation’s link to ALS

Study explains gene mutation’s link to ALS  - Photo: ©iStock/imaginimaPhoto: ©iStock/imaginima

(11/29/2018) 
Researchers at the VA Lexington Medical Center and University of Kentucky have shown how a gene mutation may contribute to the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Mutation to a gene called fused in sarcoma (FUS) are known to contribute to some cases of inherited ALS. The researchers showed that this mutation can suppress protein translation and interfere with how RNA functions in the body. The mutated proteins generated by the FUS gene disrupt an RNA quality-control pathway, which damages neuronal maintenance and function. Because this mutation suppresses how proteins are translated within cells and disrupts how RNA regulates cell activity, it likely contributes to the motor cell death seen in ALS. According to the researchers, the results will add to the understanding of both how this specific mutation can lead to inherited ALS, and more generally how ALS develops. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nov. 19, 2018)

Patients more likely to use psychotropic medication in suicide attempts when they have a prescription

Patients more likely to use psychotropic medication in suicide attempts when they have a prescription - Photo: ©iStock/DNY59Photo: ©iStock/DNY59

(11/21/2018) 
People at high risk for suicide who had a psychotropic medication prescription were more likely to use that type of drug in suicide attempts than those without a prescription, found a study including a Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center researcher. The study looked at health insurance data for nearly 23,000 people who had attempted suicide. Those who had prescription access to a psychotropic drug were 1.7 times more likely to use that drug to attempt suicide than those without a prescription. People with antipsychotic or mood stabilizer prescriptions had the highest odds of using their prescription drug in a suicide attempt. Antianxiety drugs were the most common class of drugs used, regardless of prescription status, accounting for 59 percent of overdose attempts. The results show that people at risk for suicide with psychotropic prescriptions should be targeted for safety interventions, say the researchers. (Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Nov. 6, 2018)

High cholesterol linked to lower risk of death in chronic kidney disease patients

High cholesterol linked to lower risk of death in chronic kidney disease patients - Photo: ©iStock/lbodvarPhoto: ©iStock/lbodvar

(11/21/2018) 
High cholesterol was linked to lower risk of death in chronic kidney disease patients, but higher risk of death in other patients, in a VA Long Beach Healthcare System study. Researchers looked at data on more than 2 million Veterans. They found that, in patients with chronic kidney disease, patients with cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL had lower risk of all-cause death. However, patients without chronic kidney disease had a higher risk of death from cardiovascular conditions when their cholesterol was above 200 mg/dL. More research is needed to explore the seemingly paradoxical relationship between chronic kidney disease and cholesterol, according to the researchers. (American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, Nov. 10, 2018)

Reasons for trauma-focused therapy drop-out

Reasons for trauma-focused therapy drop-out - Photo: ©iStock/asiseeit Photo: ©iStock/asiseeit

(11/21/2018) 
Minneapolis VA Healthcare System researchers explored why some Veterans with PTSD drop out of prolonged exposure and cognitive processing therapy, the two main forms of psychotherapy that VA uses to treat the condition. About one-third of Veterans who begin prolonged exposure and cognitive processing therapy do not complete treatment. Researchers interviewed 60 patients who completed treatment and 68 who did not to look for differences. They found differences between the groups in the strength of the working relationship between patient and therapist, patients’ ability to cope with increased distress, and internal motivation. Treatment buy-in, logistical factors such as transportation, and beliefs about treatment did not appear to influence the drop-out rate. (Annual Meeting of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Nov. 9, 2018)

Diabetes prevention program equally effective online and in person

Diabetes prevention program equally effective online and in person -  Photo: ©iStock/Wand_PrapanPhoto: ©iStock/Wand_Prapan

(11/14/2018) 
Diabetes prevention programs delivered in person and online can be similarly effective for both older and younger Veterans, found a VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System study. Researchers looked at data from 378 Veterans enrolled in a weight management program either in-person or online. Over 70 percent of participants completed eight or more sessions within six months. A higher percentage of the online group completed at least eight sessions. Both online and in-person groups saw similar weight loss. Weight loss was the same for both younger participants and participants 65 or older. The results show that online programs may be an good way for diabetes prevention programs to reach older adults, say the researchers. (Diabetes Care, Oct. 30, 2018)

Benzodiazepine use linked to greater hospitalization, suicide risk in those with PTSD

Benzodiazepine use linked to greater hospitalization, suicide risk in those with PTSD - Photo: ©iStock/happyphotonPhoto: ©iStock/happyphoton

(11/14/2018) 
Patients with PTSD who were prescribed benzodiazepines, such as Valium or Xanax, had higher health care utilization and suicide risk than similar patients not given the drugs, in a study by VA Salt Lake City Health Care System researchers. They looked at data on more than 240,000 Veterans with PTSD. About 7 percent of those were prescribed benzodiazepines during the 14 years examined in the study. Patients prescribed benzodiazepines had more hospitalizations, as well as outpatient and mental health visits, than those not on the drug. Benzodiazepines users had a significantly greater risk of death from suicide, and were more likely to have suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts. The study strengthens the evidence against use of the drugs in Veterans with PTSD, according to the researchers. (Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Oct. 23, 2018)

Household paints likely to contain rash-causing allergen

Household paints likely to contain rash-causing allergen - Photo: ©iStock/gece33Photo: ©iStock/gece33

(11/14/2018) 
Household paints frequently contain isothiazolinones, despite claims on safety data sheets, according to a study featuring Minneapolis VA Medical Center researchers. Isothiazolinones are commonly used as preservatives in household products, but can cause allergic reactions. The researchers tested 47 common paints. All 47 contained at least one isothiazolinone. Concentration varied based on the type of isothiazolinone present. Isothiazolinones were present even in paint specifically advertised as being preservative-free. Safety data sheets, which are supposed to disclose potential allergens, were inaccurate and insufficient to warn against possible contact dermatitis, say the researchers. (Dermatitis, Oct. 20, 2018)

Omega-3 fatty acids boost neurological health after stroke in mice

Omega-3 fatty acids boost neurological health after stroke in mice - Photo: ©iStock/BlackJack3DPhoto: ©iStock/BlackJack3D

(11/07/2018) 
Omega-3 fatty acids were shown to improve neurological health after stroke, in a mouse study by VA Pittsburgh Health Care System researchers. The researchers gave mice food supplements of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, including from fish oil, for 35 days after a stroke. Mice given omega-3 had better cognitive function and neurovascular healing than those not on the supplements. Omega-3 was not as effective at improving cognitive function in older animals as in younger animals, although older animals did improve some. The results suggest that omega-3 fatty acid could be a promising therapy after stroke, say the researchers. (Neurobiology of Disease, Sept. 12, 2018)

Battlefield acupuncture effective in both groups and individually

Battlefield acupuncture effective in both groups and individually - Photo by Robert TurtilPhoto by Robert Turtil

(11/07/2018) 
Battlefield acupuncture was effective in treating back pain in both group and individual settings, in a West Haven VA Medical Center study. In battlefield acupuncture, needles are placed in specific sites in the ear to influence the nervous system. The researchers treated 284 Veterans with back pain in either a group or individual setting, for a total of close to 800 treatment sessions. Patients self-reported a decrease in pain after 82 percent of treatments. Patients reported no change after 10 percent of treatments, and reported increased pain after 8 percent of the sessions. Both group and individual treatment had similar rates of effectiveness. The results confirm that battlefield acupuncture could be a useful treatment to relieve pain, whether administered in a group or individually. (Medical Acupuncture, Oct. 1, 2018)

Study reveals how lungs protect against damage from cigarette smoke

Study reveals how lungs protect against damage from cigarette smoke - ©iStock/bagi1998©iStock/bagi1998

(11/07/2018) 
A study by VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System researchers explored mechanisms that protect the lungs from oxidants and how smoking can damage these processes. The researchers looked at two parts of the lungs’ defense system: an enzyme called GPx3 and a hormone receptor called PPAR-gamma. They found that GPx3 expression was decreased in the lungs of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The study showed that PPAR-gamma responds to oxidative stress from cigarette smoke by increasing GPx3 production, which helps protect the lungs from damage. However, the researchers also found that cigarette smoke makes the relationship between GPx3 and PPAR-gamma less effective. They believe that the results could be useful in the development of more effective treatments for COPD. (Free Radical Biology and Medicine, October 2018)