School of Medicine in the news

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Michigan supplied $40M for marijuana research. Here’s what it’s funding

Two Michigan universities and a California-based marijuana research group are using about $40 million in Michigan marijuana tax revenue to research the therapeutic effects of cannabis on veterans suffering from suicidality and post-traumatic stress disorder. Wayne Stathe University, the University of Michigan and a marijuana research organization called MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) will spend the next three to five years studying hundreds of veterans using cannabis. They will examine variances in the effectiveness of pot use based on factors such as CBD and THC ratios, use prolonged exposure therapy and the inhalation of cannabis flower. The research, a requirement of the 2018 ballot initiative that legalized recreational marijuana in Michigan is rare nationally because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level and is considered a schedule 1 drug on par with heroin, ecstasy and peyote. The same federal laws that make such funding a rarity also make the research funded by state money all the more challenging as the groups struggle to comply with federal research standards involving a controlled substance. “I could go to a dispensary tomorrow two blocks from my office to buy whatever I need, but I’m prohibited by the FDA to give that to anyone in my laboratory,” said Leslie Lundahl, the lead principal investigator for Wayne State University’s research project. “We’ve identified a supplier who can give us exactly what we need and they’ve begun the process of getting approval,” she said. “But it could take a while.” Wayne State University received the most funding of any one group, raking in nearly $19.6 million between the two grant funding periods in 2021 and 2022. WSU researchers are working on a series of three areas to study marijuana’s effect on combatting veteran suicidality and PTSD. The study will work to determine the lowest dose of THC that still retains effectiveness in order to find ways for veterans to maintain concentration, memory or function while using cannabis. A second trial will examine whether cannabis use improves outcomes of prolonged exposure therapy, a common treatment for PTSD that includes discussions of trauma, triggers and reminders to decrease its debilitating effect. 
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Wayne State University looking for veterans to study the benefits of cannabis for PTSD

Dr. Leslie Lundahl, associate professor in the department of psychiatry and neurosciences at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, and her team are launching a new study to find out whether CBD and THC can help with PTSD. The study is looking to enlist the help of 350 veterans. The study will test cognitive function and monitor vitals while also testing blood, urine, and saliva samples. When studying regular cannabis users, they’re hoping to find lower levels of THC that can produce effective results. “Public opinion has really outpaced science in terms of cannabinoid therapeutics,” said Lundahl. “There are animal data that suggest it might be helpful, there are anecdotal reports that it might be helpful for pain or for PTSD or mood or anxiety, but we don’t really have any hard scientific data to really support that…Specifically, we’re looking at PTSD symptoms severity and then frequency and severity of suicidal thoughts and behavior.  
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The power of short breaks, movement and other practices on improving mental health

As of July 16, people have only to press three digits – 988 – to reach the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline when they need help during a mental health crisis. Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression were a leading cause of global health problems even before the spread of COVID-19; however, they’ve gotten worse. Since the first year of the pandemic, anxiety and depression rates worldwide have increased by an overwhelming 25%. The Conversation gathered four essential reads that explore some daily habits and practices that have been shown to improve mental health. Arash Javanbakht, associate professor of psychiatry at Wayne State University, shares the science behind the connection between exercise and mental well-being as well as his personal experience with the positive impacts of physical activity. “Working out regularly really does change the brain biology, and it is not just ‘go walk and you will just feel better,’” he said. “Regular exercise, especially cardio, does change the brain. Do not see it as all or none. It does not have to be a one-hour drive to and from the gym or biking trail for a one-hour workout vs. staying on the couch. I always say to my patients: ‘One more step is better than none, and three squats are better than no squats. When less motivated, or in the beginning, just be nice to yourself. Do as much as possible. Three minutes of dancing with your favorite music still counts.”  
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Should you get a COVID-19 booster or wait for an omicron-specific shot?

The latest COVID-19 surge has health leaders urging the public to get booster shots. That leaves people with a choice: Get boosted now or wait for an omicron-specific booster that is expected to roll out this fall or winter? BA.5 is better at evading immunity from previous infection and vaccinations, and it’s now responsible for roughly 80% of new COVID-19 cases. Dr. Teena Chopra, the co-director at the Center for Emerging Infections at Wayne State University said don’t wait for omicron-specific vaccines to get boosted. “We don’t want to get a severe disease from COVID. We don’t want to be hospitalized. We don’t want to be in the ICU from COVID. So do not wait to get your boosters,” she said.  

How to safely remove psoriasis scales

By Elizabeth Yun  Psoriasis scales, the gray or silvery flakes of dead skin that collect on the surface of the plaques that characterize the condition, can be itchy, uncomfortable, and embarrassing – so much so that you may be tempted to pick, peel, or scrape them off. However, while there are some good reasons to remove scales, taking your fingernails to them isn’t one of them, as you risk damaging the skin they’re attached to. This “can trigger flares of more patches of psoriasis, a reaction known as the Koebner phenomenon,” said Steven Daveluy, assistant professor and program director at the Wayne State University department of dermatology.  
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Wayne State, Karmanos to build cancer research, medical towers in Detroit’s Midtown

The Wayne State University School of Medicine and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute announced plans Monday to build a pair of towers in Midtown Detroit for medical education and research. The project, estimated to cost between $350 million to $450 million, would replace aging Wayne State medical school facilities and be an expansion of research space for the cancer institute. A joint committee is working to determine a precise location for the two adjacent and connected towers. The decision could come in the next three to four months, said Dr. Mark Schweitzer, vice president of health affairs for Wayne State. “The goal is to provide state-of-the-art medical education facilities and state-of-the-art research facilities,” Schweitzer said.  
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Wayne State, Karmanos to build cancer research, medical towers in Detroit’s Midtown

The Wayne State University School of Medicine and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute announced plans Monday to build a pair of towers in Midtown Detroit for medical education and research. The project, estimated to cost between $350 million to $450 million, would replace aging Wayne State medical school facilities and be an expansion of research space for the cancer institute. A joint committee is working to determine a precise location for the two adjacent and connected towers. The decision could come in the next three to four months, said Dr. Mark Schweitzer, vice president of health affairs for Wayne State. “The goal is to provide state-of-the-art medical education facilities and state-of-the-art research facilities,” Schweitzer said.  
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Survivors of Aurora, Colorado, mass shooting still haunted 10 years later

Ten years ago, a gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 and wounding 70 people. At the time, it was one of the worst mass shootings in the country’s history, and sparked familiar conversations about gun control and mental health. A decade later that massacre continues to take a daily toll on both individuals and the community. Arash Javanbakht, who directs the Stress, Trauma and Anxiety Research Clinic at Wayne State University, said there are as many ways that people deal with trauma as there are people who experience trauma. “For some people, there’s detachment. For some people, it’s loss of hope. For some people, basically, their perspective of the world has changed, the way they see life, the way they define experiences,” he said. “Some people turn it to the action. Some people channel their emotions into action. We have seen some of the survivors of these events start becoming activists who are trying to find solutions to make this better.”
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Planning begins for new digital resource and seminars to help cancer patients navigate financial barriers, thanks to MHEF grant

The Michigan Health Endowment Fund (MHEF) has awarded research investigators at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute a $100,000 Community Healthy Impact grant to support a new program addressing financial toxicity among cancer patients. Michigan Community Outreach to Address Financial Toxicity (MI-COST) will build upon ongoing community outreach and engagement work underway within Karmanos’ Office of Cancer Health Equity and Community Engagement (OCHECE). The objectives include developing a series of educational seminars on topics designed to help people with cancer and their caregivers navigate related financial barriers and creating a website to provide patients and caregivers with financial information and resources. “One of our roles in OCHECE is to connect our communities to our scientists and our scientists to our communities to ensure that there is community input into our cancer center’s research agenda,” said Dr. Hayley Thompson, co-investigator for the MI-COST program, associate center director for community outreach and engagement at Karmanos, and professor in the department of oncology at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine. 
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Doubting mainstream medicine, COVID patients find dangerous advice and pills online

By Geoff Brumfiel   COVID cases and hospitalizations are once again on the rise, thanks to a new omicron subvariant. Vaccines and certain proven treatments can help prevent the worst outcomes. But for some Americans who don't trust the medical establishment, there's a network of fringe medical doctors, natural healers and internet personalities ready to push unproven cures for COVID. And a shady black market where you can buy them. For some plugged into that alternative medical network, doctors say it ultimately cost their lives. "The non-fraudulent non-messed up clinical trials are all pretty uniformly negative," says David Gorski, a cancer surgeon and researcher at the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Michigan. For years before COVID, Gorski tracked doctors who offered alternative cures for cancers. And he sees plenty of parallels between those physicians and doctors like Pierre Kory. "A lot of these doctors fit the mold of what I used to call back in the day 'the brave maverick doctor,'" he says. Gorski says that they play up their persecution by the system, offer scant evidence for their treatments, and deride effective therapies while promoting their own cures. "COVID is no different than quackery going back centuries," Gorski says.  
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The current state of the COVID-19 pandemic

It has been over two years since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the ways we interacted as a community worldwide. While we have done a lot to fight the spread of the virus, many are wondering when the pandemic will officially end. In the meantime, the BA.5 Omicron subvariant – the most prevalent subvariant in the United States – is spreading and is four times more resistant to COVID-19 vaccines. Still, unvaccinated people are five times more likely to get infected and about fifteen times more likely to die from the disease than those vaccinated and boosted, according to the Mayo Clinic. While we know that those vaccinated are likely to have more mild symptoms than the unvaccinated, the death rate from COVID-19 is still much higher than the flu and other contagious diseases. Paul Kilgore, co-director of the Center for Emerging and Infectious Diseases at Wayne State University and the senior investigator for Henry Ford Health System’s Global Health Initiative, says exercise, a healthy diet, getting vaccinated and checking in with one’s physician is the best way to keep people safe and healthy while the Omicron subvariant spreads. “The real question is, what are the best health behaviors we can adopt now, for our own selves, but also for our family and children, that are going to protect us for years to come against chronic diseases and infectious diseases,” Kilgore said. 

Michigan’s only venomous snake suspected of at least 75 bites

By Eric Freedman  Michigan’s only venomous snake, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, has been suspected or proven responsible for at least 75 bites reported in the state from 2003 to 2020, according to a comprehensive tally of such incidents. However, “only a handful were actually confirmed bites from identified eastern massasaugas,” said Varun Vohra, a clinical toxicologist and director of the Michigan Poison & Drug Information Center at Wayne State University. “The majority of cases involved folks who were out hiking in and around wetlands when they were reportedly bit,” said Vohra. “There were very few (bites) resulting from an individual actually handling the snake. And I do not believe any were trying to pick one up in the wild to try and keep.” He said the most common symptoms are edema – swelling – followed by pain and redness, with the most frequent treatments being an antidote. None of the bites were fatal, according to a recently published study by researchers from the information center and the Detroit Medical Center.  
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Wayne County partners with Wayne State University to operate Medical Examiner’s Office

Wayne County and Wayne State University have finalized an agreement to partner in the operation of the county’s Office of the Medical Examiner for a five-year period, which was unanimously approved by the Wayne County Commission. The agreement anticipates the transfer of the oversight of the office from the University of Michigan to WSU on Oct. 1, subject to the terms of a mutually agreeable operating agreement. “This is good news for Wayne County,” said Wayne County Executive Warren C. Evans. “Wayne State University has a great reputation, but equally as important is that this is an institution with longstanding ties to our community. They care about the people they serve in Wayne County because to them this is personal, and that’s so important for a relationship like this to work.” “The university, through its School of Medicine and our other health sciences programs, will provide state-of-the-art forensics services, public health research and education,” said Wael Sakr, dean of the Wayne State University School of Medicine and former chair of the department of pathology. “As part of the agreement, Wayne State commits to launching an aggressive program of retention and recruitment of forensic pathologists and associated professionals, and to initiate planning for a forensic pathology fellowship program. We look forward to providing this critical service to the residents of Wayne County.”  
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Fireworks can torment veterans and survivors of gun violence with PTSD – here’s how to celebrate with respect for those who served

Arash Javanbakht, a psychiatrist at Wayne State University, wrote an article for The Conversation outlining how fireworks can trigger PTSD. For some combat veterans, the Fourth of July is not a time to celebrate the independence of the country they love, he writes. Instead, the holiday is a terrifying ordeal because the noise of fireworks – loud, sudden, and reminiscent of war – rocks their nervous system. “This reaction is not unique to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Also affected are millions of others, including civilians, refugees, and first responders,” Javanbakht writes. “As a psychiatrist who specialize in trauma and PTSD, I urge you not to overdo an act which causes so much suffering for so many of your fellow Americans.”
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An empire state of mind: The science behind what makes patriots susceptible to becoming nationalists

By Matthew Rozsa      The famous British writer Samuel Johnson once criticized a political opponent’s self-described patriotism by memorably pointing out that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Although Johnson lived before the advent of psychology and modern brain science, his observation has been at least partially vindicated by experts in subsequent centuries. This does not mean there is anything wrong with celebrating the 4th of July with fireworks, good movies and learning about the founding fathers. Feeling good about one’s nation and your place in It is patriotism. But these days, many conflate patriotism with its more extreme cousin nationalism, which is predicated on superiority and competitiveness. You cannot be merely proud, but you must be proud of your nation’s dominance – which means that you think in terms of winners and losers, friends and enemies. Nationalism, because of its inherently tribal nature, can be dangerous if the sentiment is used improperly. To be clear, these sentiments do not only fuel nationalism. Arash Javanbakht, a psychiatrist from Wayne State University, further elaborated on the downsides of nationalism in a 2019 article from The Conversation. “Tribalism is the biological loophole that many politicians have banked on for a long time: tapping into our fears and tribal instincts,” Javanbakht wrote. “Some examples are Nazism, the Ku Klux Klan, religious wars and the Dark Ages. The typical pattern is to give the other humans a different label, and say they are going to harm us or our resources, and to turn the other group into a concept.”      
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Wayne State, DPS want students to be ambassadors for vaccines

Teena Chopra, professor of medicine and co-director of Wayne State University’s Center for Emerging and Infectious Diseases, is piloting a program that will educate Detroit’s youth on the significance and history of vaccines. The two-year program will be funded by a Detroit Medical Center grant of $60,000. The program will be targeted toward educating high school students during the summer to become ambassadors who return to the school to promote vaccines and educate their peers about the history and benefits of vaccines, and how vaccinations are effective in protecting communities. “This is an incredible opportunity for Detroit youth who will be empowered to serve as Vaccine Ambassadors for the city. They will gain insight into the history of vaccines and will be trained on their communication skills,” said Chopra.  
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First monkeypox case confirmed in Michigan

Michigan’s first monkeypox case has been confirmed. The state health department says the patient is in isolation and poses no threat to the public. Wayne State University infectious disease professor Dr. Teena Chopra explained that the virus is transmitted in the form of close bodily contact. More than 5,000 cases have been confirmed in countries across the globe. The CDC reports that there are more than 350 confirmed cases in 27 states. “It has been around for some time, but in the U.S. we haven’t seen an outbreak of this magnitude in a very long time and we are seeing this because of travel and escape of the virus through somebody who traveled from West Africa,” Chopra said. Dr. Chopra says vaccines are available.  

Study: Sperm cells’ age may play role in reproductive success

By Lily Bohlke  A new study found an association between what researchers are calling the biological age of sperm and reproductive success. While age is a major factor for women thinking of becoming pregnant, it is not often considered in male reproductive health, because men continually produce sperm throughout their lives. Dr. Rick Pilsner, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Wayne State University School of Medicine who led the study, said chronological aging – or the normal passage of time – does not always capture the aging process of the sperm. “Chronological age does not take into account the intrinsic [makeup of] your genes and how they function,” Pilsner explained. “As well as external factors such as environmental exposures, smoking, diet.” Pilsner reported initial findings showed a new measure, referred to as a “sperm epigenetic clock,” could be a way to predict biological fitness of a person’s sperm, and thus could be useful in predicting reproductive success. 

Biden administration ramps up monkeypox vaccination amid rising cases

By Krista Mahr  The Biden administration rolled out a strategy to expand vaccination against the monkeypox virus to a greater number of at-risk individuals, as cases of the rare disease continue to climb and outbreaks in major cities across the country worsen. City public health departments reported that demand for the vaccine is still outstripping supply, raising concerns that the administration will struggle to keep up. To date, the CDC has confirmed 306 cases of monkeypox in 28 states and other jurisdictions. California, New York, Florida and Illinois have the highest concentration of cases. The disease, which is largely circulating now among men who have sex with men, causes flu-like symptoms and skin lesions, but patients can receive antivirals, and all of them have recovered so far. Many epidemiologists and public health advocates say the current case count is understated, driven by difficulties in getting tests to labs and clinicians’ lack of familiarity with a disease that is relatively rare in the U.S. In order to confirm a monkeypox case, clinicians must submit a sample to a laboratory in the CDC’s Laboratory Response Network, which can become complicated in big states, rural areas or where medical staff lacks training. “We haven’t had any cases yet in Michigan, but we are all – including the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services – aware that we are vastly undertesting,” said Gretchen Snoeyenbos Newman, an assistant professor of infectious disease at Wayne State University. “The process for testing has been somewhat unclear and a bit cumbersome,” she said, adding that the state health department is actively working on improving that. “Information needs to go out both to providers and to the community.”  
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More kids are ingesting melatonin. Here’s what parents should know.

When Varun Vohra, director of the Michigan Poison & Drug Information Center at Wayne State University School of Medicine, noticed more cases involving children who had ingested the sleep aid melatonin, it prompted him to join forces with other experts who had observed a similar increase and study the issue. But even the research team, which was made up of pediatricians and toxicologists, was surprised by the results. From January 2012 through December 2021, the annual number of pediatric ingestions of melatonin reported to poison control centers across the United States rose a whopping 530%, with a total of 260,435 ingestions reported over that time. “None of us really anticipated that large of a surge,” Vohra said. In a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the team cited the rising popularity and availability of melatonin, the increase in sleep disturbances caused by the pandemic, and the extra time children have been spending at home as possible contributors to the soaring number of reported ingestions. Most cases were managed at home, but 10.7% of patients were seen at a healthcare facility. “We at this time are not asserting that melatonin directly led to serious outcomes, including death,” Vohra said, because of the limitations of poison center data and the lack of individual case narrative reviews. “We don’t want to set off alarm bells among parents since the majority of melatonin ingestions are relatively benign and resolve without complications.” Vohra added that the intent of the research paper was to describe the increase in pediatric melatonin ingestions and start a discussion. The research team and other experts have called for more study.