Health in the news

New research in Michigan on preterm births, environmental toxins

By Mark Richardson Wayne State University has received an $11 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate how volatile organic compounds contribute to preterm births. The five-year grant will be used to fund the Center for Leadership in Environmental Awareness and Research, where scientists will study the link between volatile organic compounds and preterm births in the City of Detroit. One goal is to create new ways to pinpoint the sources of industrial pollutants, and develop ways to mitigate their negative health effects. Carol Miller, professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-leader of the program at Wayne State University, said the ultimate goal is healthier moms and babies. "Very specifically, we're looking at how those contaminants impact women of childbearing age, and may be a factor influencing the high preterm birthrate in the Detroit area," Miller explained. Preterm births occur before 37 weeks, often leaving infants with breathing and feeding issues, developmental delays, or problems with seeing and hearing. According to the March of Dimes, among large American cities, Detroit has the highest rate of preterm births, at 14.6%. Volatile organic compounds are toxic vapors or gases, mostly generated by industrial sites. There are hundreds of contaminated sites in Detroit, and researchers theorize the effects of the compounds contribute to Detroit's high preterm birthrate. Dr. Melissa Runge-Morris, professor of oncology at and co-leader of the program, said preterm births most often occur in marginalized communities. "We are particularly plagued by environmental health disparities that affect and impact the most vulnerable members of our urban community," Runge-Morris emphasized.
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Meditation and mindfulness offer an abundance of health benefits and may be as effective as medication for treating certain conditions

Hilary A. Marusak, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University, wrote an article for The Conversation about the benefits of meditation. She writes: “Many people look to diet trends or new exercise regimens – often with questionable benefit – to get a healthier start on the new year. But there is one strategy that’s been shown time and again to boost both mood and health: meditation. In late 2022, a high-profile study made a splash when it claimed that meditation may work as well as a common drug named Lexapro for the treatment of anxiety. Over the past couple of decades, similar evidence has emerged about mindfulness and meditation’s broad array of health benefits, for purposes ranging from stress and pain reduction to depression treatments to boosting brain health and helping to manage excessive inflammation and long COVID-19. Despite the mounting body of evidence showing the health benefits of meditation, it can be hard to weigh the science and to know how robust it is. I am a neuroscientist studying the effects of stress and trauma on brain development in children and adolescents. I also study how mindfulness, meditation and exercise can positively affect brain development and mental health in youth.”

Drug shortages aren’t new. The tripledemic just made you look.

By Maryn McKenna Flu meds and prescription drugs have been in short supply all winter—but the problem goes back over a decade. Parents of small children have faced a persistent problem this “tripledemic” winter: They’ve headed out to pharmacies and supermarkets, looking for cold drugs and fever reducers to counter Covid, flu and RSV, and discovered the shelves were bare. And it hasn’t just been over-the-counter drugs in short supply: The antibiotic amoxicillin, used to treat strep throat and scarlet fever, is scarce in the US and the UK. What’s been worse: Discovering this isn’t a one-time interruption that might resolve quickly—with luck, while your child could still benefit. According to records at the US Food and Drug Administration, amoxicillin supplies have been low since the end of October, and pharmacy experts say colleagues were struggling with stock-outs from the beginning of that month. And it's not just treatments for seasonal infections that are out of stock. According to the FDA, 191 drugs—antibiotics, cancer treatments, anesthetics, Adderall, and other pharmaceuticals—are currently in shortage or in the process of being restored to the market. This isn’t a Covid-caused, temporary aberration. Experts have been ringing the alarm since at least 2011. Put another way: The US drives drug innovation for the rest of the world, but it can’t keep what it develops on pharmacy shelves. It’s a stubborn problem—composed of procurement slowdowns, proprietary information, and policy shortfalls—that no one has been able to fix. Coping with drug shortages is such a regular occurrence that “it's almost its own subspecialty in pharmacy now,” says Susan Davis, who is an associate dean for pharmacy at Wayne State University. “It’s something that people have as part of their job description, trying to manage shortages, which is unfathomable.”
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National Glaucoma Awareness Month calls for routine check-up

Did you know that the number one cause of blindness in African Americans is glaucoma? "If you have a family history, you're significantly increased risk. As well as in the African American population, you're at 6 times greater risk of developing it," says Dr. Mark Juzych, director of the Kresge Eye Institute. January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, and ophthalmologists are encouraging you, especially if you're over 65, to get your eyes checked. Juzych says glaucoma is the thief of sight because there are no symptoms of this disease. He says the only way of knowing if you have it is to get your eyes checked periodically. Juzych says the reason there's a whole month dedicated to bringing awareness given that there are no symptoms of it. "I think this (month) makes sure you bring it forward, so people understand that they really need to get checked out; there's no way for you to know otherwise," says Juzych.
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Wayne State receives $1.7 million NIH award to understand and address ototoxic side effects of anti-cancer drug

A Wayne State University researcher has received a $1.7 million, five-year award from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders of the National Institutes of Health for the study, “Targeting nitrative stress for treatment of cisplatin ototoxicity.” The research aims to address the critical gap that exists in understanding how nitrative stress caused by cisplatin treatment alters cochlear protein signaling causing apoptosis – or death of cells – in cisplatin-induced ototoxicity. The study, led by Samson Jamesdaniel, Ph.D., assistant professor of family medicine and public health in Wayne State’s School of Medicine and in the Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, stated that cisplatin and its analogs are prescribed to 10 to 20% of all cancer patients, causing hearing loss in up to 80% treated with the drug. "Cisplatin is a first-generation platinum-based anti-neoplastic drug that is the backbone of combination therapies to treat cancers of the bladder, cervix, lung [non-small cell], head and neck [squamous cell], testicle, mesothelium and some other solid tumors,” said Jamesdaniel. “The ototoxicity caused by treatments using cisplatin can significantly affect the quality of life in cancer survivors and lead to devastating consequences in children, with impacts on speech and language development, education and social integration.”
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Quickly starting CPR is critical in cardiac arrests

By Darren Cunningham   Following the collapse of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin during Monday Night Football, the American Heart Association is encouraging people to understand the importance of CPR and the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack. Cardiologist Dr. Brian O'Neil is the chair of Wayne State University’s Department of Emergency Medicine and board president for the American Heart Association Detroit chapter. He said when someone does need CPR and receives CPR, their chances of being discharged from the hospital increases by three-fold.  O’Neil explained, “When you’re doing CPR, you’re maintaining blood flow to the heart itself because even though it’s not beating, it’s still using a lot of energy and if you don’t resupply that energy you get into something called the flatline or asystole." "That’s never what you want," he added. O’Neil said what happened Monday is uncommon but not unheard of. 

Well Woman Wednesdays employs Mason jars to bring health to Detroit women

The Wayne State University Office of Women’s Health used Mason jars to bring the importance of health to Detroit women during its most recent Well Woman Wednesdays event.  Well Woman Wednesdays is a health-focused mobile unit developed by the Office of Women’s Health in partnership with Wayne Health and other organizations. It aims to provide on-site health screenings as well as education to improve primary health preventive measures. Partners who cover all areas of women’s health educate and screen participants. Areas of women’s health that are usually covered include pregnancy and infant health, cardiovascular health, reproductive/sexual health, cancer prevention and mental health. The mobile unit brings health to Detroit area neighborhoods. Partners in the event included the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program, the Center for Health and Community Impact, the Detroit Parenting Network, Wayne Health, Delta Dental and Make your Date. The women visited partner tables and gained important educational information, lab work, vaccines and health screenings. The participants also engaged in a chair yoga activity tailored to their age group. Attendees received Mason jars that contained motivational quotes about women’s health. They later filled the jars with a salad they arranged from a complimentary salad bar. Sonia Hassan, M.D., associate vice president and founder of the Office of Women’s Health and a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology for WSU, provided a motivational talk about health and wellbeing while encouraging the women to take advantage of the services provided. 
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Cost of epilepsy meds continues to soar

By Cara Murez  Costs for epilepsy medications in the United States are skyrocketing, outpacing inflation and straining federal insurers Medicare and Medicaid, according to new research. Spending on antiseizure medications more than doubled in eight years for the government insurers, largely because of third-generation and brand-name drugs, the study found. "While it's very important that Medicare and Medicaid patients have access to these drugs, the cost to the system is significant and continues to rise each year," said Dr. Deepti Zutshi, lead study author and an associate professor of neurology at Wayne State University in Detroit. "The answer is not to remove access to the medications but consider ways to cap or head off costs so we can continue to ensure the longevity of Medicare and Medicaid," she said.  
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Vitamin B12 deficiency is a common health problem that can have serious consequences – but doctors often overlook it

By Diane Cress  Diane Cress, associate professor of nutrition and food science at Wayne State University, wrote an article about the consequences of vitamin B12 deficiency, and how it is over overlooked by doctors. B12 deficiency is a common problem that affects an estimated 6% to 20% of the U.S. population. Cress outlines the symptoms of B12 deficiency, as well as the absorption process and treatment options.  “One primary symptom of B12 deficiency is fatigue – a level of tiredness or exhaustion so deep that it affects daily life activities. Other symptoms are neurological and may include tingling in the extremities, confusion, memory loss, depression and difficulty maintain balance…” Cress writes. “However, since there can be so many causes for these symptoms, health care providers may overlook the possibility of a B12 deficiency and fail to screen for it…”
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Give thanks: No fall COVID wave in Michigan

By Mike Wilkinson  As Michigan and the nation are just weeks from beginning the fourth year of COVID-19, the signs are remarkably positive, according to new state data released Monday and Tuesday. For the first time since July, Michigan hospitals are treating fewer than 1,000 COVID-19 positive patients. New confirmed cases fell this week to the lowest level since April. The coronavirus positive test rate is now the lowest since May. The good news is widespread: hospitalizations have declined in every region in Michigan after hitting a recent high, state records show. But as Thanksgiving and the holidays approach, other data shows that the virus remains a threat: the state reported 223 deaths on Tuesday, the most since February. Though the deaths spanned several months, including 158 in November and 61 in October, they underscore that the virus is still taking lives daily across Michigan. Among that hardest hit: older residents and those who are unvaccinated or are not fully boosted. “It is very stark,” said Dr. Phil Levy, an emergency medicine physician at Detroit Receiving Hospital and a Wayne State University researcher. “If you’re not up-to-date (on vaccinations) you are exposing yourself to substantial risk.” 
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Detroit police make 60+ mental health runs per day; new program aims to help

By Sarah Grimmer Activists in Detroit have called for a third-party mental health response team. Dr. Gerald Sheiner, a psychiatrist at Sinai-Grace Hospital and professor at Wayne State University, agrees. “Mental health care is at a crisis state in our city and across the country,” Sheiner said. Dr. Sheiner responds to mental health patients at the hospital and says when those patients are having their worst moments, the presence of weapons or intimidating personnel often makes the situation worse. “Patients who experience those type of difficulties are often frightened and think that everyone else is out to do them harm,” he said. “Mental health professionals are the best fit personnel to respond to mental health crisis, but mental health professionals are not available.” With a lack of a mental health response team, Detroit police have been responding to the uptick in mental health calls. The department is responding to an average of 64 mental health runs per day, more than three times as many as in 2020. “64 calls a day is beyond the ability of emergency services to care for in many instances,’ said Sheiner. DPD has been partnering with the Detroit Wayne Integrated Crisis Intervention Team for training and are working with activists and elected officials to create a non-police response program to address non-violent mental health calls. “I think that a straight up mental health response presents someone to intervene who is less threatening to a patient and someone who intervenes who has more experience dealing with a patient in crisis,” said Sheiner.
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Wayne State gets $11M to study impact of air pollution on birth outcomes

By Jena Brooker Detroit is a national leader for the most preterm births – and Wayne State University is setting up a new research center to collect more data on why. WSU in September received an $11.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate how one type of air pollution – volatile organic compounds, or VOCs – contribute to preterm births. The five-year grant has funded the formation of the Center for Leadership in Environmental Awareness and Research (CLEAR), where researchers will study the link between VOCs and adverse birth and health outcomes. “There really hasn’t been a significant body of work that’s been done till this point in time trying to understand the environmental link to that [preterm birth] rate,” said Carol Miller, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Wayne State and co-leader of the new center. Melissa Runge-Morris, a physician and co-leader of CLEAR, said the medical field is lagging in its understanding of how environmental factors contribute to health outcomes compared to lifestyle and genetic factors. “As far as environmental exposures, all of medicine is playing catch up,” she said. “We’re no different here in Detroit.”
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COVID-19 may be to blame for the surge in RSV illness among children. Here’s why

A number of young children are being hospitalized because of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and it’s happening at an unusual time of year and among older children than in years past. The current RSV outbreak is different from previous outbreaks in several ways: It’s happening in the fall rather than the winter; older children and not just infants are being hospitalized; and cases are occurring that are more serious than in previous years. “The theory is that everyone’s now back together, and this is a rebound phenomenon,” said Jeffrey Kline, a physician and associate chair of research for emergency medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine. Kline runs a national surveillance network that gathers data about viral infections from about 70 hospitals, including four pediatric hospitals. He says those data show that 318 children were hospitalized with acute respiratory illness brought on by RSV in the week starting Oct. 9, compared with 45 hospitalizations in the week starting July 25. “If we think about the relative increase – ninefold increase – that’s not nothing, especially in the pediatric [emergency departments],” Kilne said.   

MSU professor to help lead new $15M suicide prevention research center

A Michigan State University professor will help lead a newly established suicide prevention research center focused on reaching people in the jail system who are at risk of taking their own lives. The National Center for Health and Justice Integration for Suicide Prevention will be funded for five years with a $15 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. The data gathered will be used to notify administrators at three Michigan jails taking part in the studies when someone who is being held is identified as at-risk for suicide and in need of further assessments or support, said Sheryl Kubiak, dean of social work at Wayne State University and director of the Center for Behavioral Health and Justice. Kubiak, who will oversee the study, said the jails involved aren’t yet finalized. She’s hoping it presents another tool for jail staff in identifying people in crisis and addressing that. “Most of the mechanisms that jails have when people come in are self-reporting,” she said, and while staff at every jail ask people during intake if they are suicidal, there are many things that stop people from being honest about their mental state.  
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Black Michiganders got 60% of monkeypox cases, only 17% of vaccines

By Kristen Jordan Shamus  Even though 60% of the people who have gotten monkeypox in Michigan so far are Black, 70% of the doses of the vaccine that can prevent infection or limit symptoms after exposure have gone to white Michiganders. Black residents have gotten just 17% of the doses administered so far in Michigan, new state health department data shows. And when the first doses of Tecovirimat, the antiviral treatment more widely known as Tpoxx, arrived in Michigan, Oakland and Washtenaw counties got them – not Detroit, a majority Black city that has 38% of Michigan’s known monkeypox infections, said Dr. Shira Heisler, a Wayne Health physician and medical director of the Detroit Public Health Sexually Transmitted Diseases Clinic. In those early weeks of the monkeypox outbreak, Heisler said she fielded calls from people concerned they might have the virus. Because her clinic was so short-staffed, she didn’t have anyone else to pick up the phone. She was also testing and treating patients with the virus and administering vaccines. Doses of Tpoxx were “only physically available in two neighboring county health departments,” said Heisler, whose STD clinic is the largest in the state. “I had a patient who was immunosuppressed, HIV-positive, was in significant pain from monkeypox…However, there was no way to physically get the Tpoxx to the patient. I physically couldn’t get it for him,” she said. The patient didn’t have access to transportation and no courier service was available. “So I was going to drive there. Me and the epidemiologist were on the phone int the wee hours of the evening to figure it out…There’s no infrastructure, organizational infrastructure to be able to do this.”