UCLA Health Topical Advice: Mating Patterns vs. Genetics.  Do housing interventions improve health?  Air pollution and neurodegenerative diseases.

UCLA Health Topical Advice: Mating Patterns vs. Genetics. Do housing interventions improve health? Air pollution and neurodegenerative diseases.

UCLA Health Tip Sheet November 28, 2022

Newswise – Below is a brief roundup of news and story ideas from the experts at UCLA Health. For more information on these stories or for help with other stories, please contact us at [email protected].

When patients with congenital heart disease get cancer: A new study of cancer outcomes in people with adult congenital heart disease (ACHD) indicates the need for more concerted efforts to appropriately screen and care for this unique population. This collaborative study of UCLA’s adult congenital heart disease and cardio-oncology programs found that all cardiac events in this population could be successfully treated without permanent interruption of cancer therapy. In this cohort of adults with both conditions, the median age of cancer diagnosis was only 43.5 years. Only 10% of cancers were detected by screening and a quarter of all patients had metastatic disease at the time of diagnosis. Despite predominantly moderate to high anatomical complexity of congenital heart disease and a high incidence of adverse cardiac events, most deaths are due to cancer rather than cardiovascular causes. The authors state that the data show that it is possible to administer systemic cancer treatment to such a cohort and manage cardiotoxicity without prolonged interruption of treatment. Additionally, the authors highlight the need to better define cancer screening in this high-risk population to ensure prompt diagnosis and better outcomes. Read the study in Cardio-Oncology.

Diversity in gastroenterology A new survey of more than 1,200 gastroenterology (GI) and hepatology professionals in the United States has assessed current perspectives on racial and ethnic diversity in the workforce and disparities in health care. It finds that the most frequently reported barriers to increasing racial and ethnic diversity in gastroenterology and hepatology were insufficient representation of underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups in the education and training pipeline (reported by 35 .4% of respondents), in professional leadership (27.9%), and among practicing gastroenterology and hepatology professionals (26.6%). The survey also highlighted the gap in satisfaction with workplace diversity among gastrointestinal physicians and hepatologists by race and ethnicity. While 63% of black physicians were very or somewhat dissatisfied with workplace diversity, 78% of white physicians were very or somewhat satisfied. Read the study in the December 2022 issue of Gastroenterology.

An unexpected discovery of Alzheimer’s Little is known about how the non-neuronal brain cells known as astrocytes – which are distinguished by their “bushy” star-like shape – differ in structure or function in the brain, or on how these cells can contribute to neurological diseases. In a new UCLA-led study aimed at better understanding the molecular similarities and differences between astrocytes, researchers have found that networks of genes correlated with cell shape unexpectedly contain genes for disease risk of Alzheimers. When researchers working with mice reduced the expression of key genes related to cell shape in the hippocampus, making astrocytes less complex, cognitive function was reduced. They also found that the expression of the same genes was reduced in the human brain of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The findings suggest that therapies that restore astrocyte structure could help combat Alzheimer’s disease. The study was led by Fumito Endo, a project scientist in the lab of UCLA physiology and neurobiology professor Baljit Khakh. Read the November 4, 2022 study in Science.

Environmental risk of neurodegeneration As scientists increasingly recognize that long-term exposure to air pollution contributes to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, the way in which this exposure increases the risk is not well understood. A new study from UCLA of air pollution exposure in a new animal model found that exposure caused neuronal loss, which was at least partly due to a buildup of protein aggregates in the brain. The researchers, led by Dr. Jeff Bronstein, director of the movement disorders program at UCLA, also found that pollution exposure activated inflammatory cells that can be both good and bad, indicating that any drug intended to fight inflammation must be heavily targeted at cells that can damage neurons. Read the study in Scientific Reports

Housing & Health: It’s complicated Previous data has shown that housing insecurity, that is, difficulty with housing affordability and stability, is widespread and leads to an increased risk of homelessness and poor health. But a new study finds weak evidence that interventions to improve housing affordability and stability make a difference in improving health. Led by Dr. Katherine Chen, clinical instructor in health sciences at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, the authors conclude that existing strategies to prevent housing insecurity, while necessary, are not sufficient to achieve long-term health gains for vulnerable populations and may need to be both modified and combined with other policies to address social inequalities, including housing racism. Read the study in the November 2, 2022 issue of JAMA Network Open

New approach to bladder cancer A new UCLA study of 82 patients with a high-risk form of bladder cancer shows that 71% of patients, all of whom did not respond to typical treatment, responded to an immunotherapy drug called NAI, which works by activating the body’s natural killer cells. After two years, 90% of patients who responded to the drug avoided surgery to remove the bladder, and there were no bladder cancer deaths among the 82 patients. The study was funded by ImmunityBio and the results appear in the November 10, 2022 issue of NEJM Evidence.

A laboratory in the palm of your hand Using pinhead-sized swarms of magnets inside an all-in-one portable lab kit, UCLA researchers have developed technology that could dramatically increase the speed and volume of disease testing, while reducing costs and use of scarce supplies. Learn more in this November 10, 2022 press release from the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering here.

Do celebrity endorsements increase vaccination? In the year between October 2020 and October 2022, Americans’ willingness to be vaccinated (defined as being vaccinated or planning to be vaccinated) increased from 47.6% to 81.1%. A new survey led by Arash Naeim of the Center for SMART Health at UCLA’s Institute for Clinical and Translational Sciences examined the impact of five strategies on increasing unvaccinated adults’ willingness to get vaccinated. He found that endorsements by members of the scientific community, medical professionals, or celebrities had no positive effect. What is? The ability to relax the need for masks and social distancing, financial incentives and vaccine requirements for attending sporting events, travel and work. Read the study in Vaccine.

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